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Planned workers’ camp draws ire of Tchesinkut Lake residents

Dozens attend open house organized by TransCanada, RDBN
Bernice Petersen (front right) and other Tchesinkut Lake residents filling out comment sheets to register their concerns about the proposed camp for Coastal GasLink Pipeline workers. (David Gordon Koch photo)

TransCanada’s proposed construction of a work camp that would house up to 600 pipeline workers near Tchesinkut Lake prompted dozens of local residents to attend an open house about the project on May 1 — and many disapproved of the plan, citing concerns about pollution, traffic, and security around the proposed site.

The Chamber of Commerce Heritage Room was packed for the open house, which was organized jointly by TransCanada and the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN), with officials from both organizations positioned at booths to answer queries from residents and hand out literature.

About half a dozen company officials from Prince George, Vancouver and Calgary were on hand, said Jacquelynn Benson, communication manager for the Coastal GasLink Pipeline project, which would transport natural gas about 670 km from northeastern B.C. to LNG Canada’s planned facility in Kitimat.

She said the open house was a way of ensuring that locals were satisfied with the way the project was going forward. “We want to make sure we do this right,” she said.

Concerns include watershed, security

But many were concerned about the potential impacts the proposed work camp, with the atmosphere at times becoming heated.

Ron Miller — a member of the Tchesinkut Watershed Society (TWS) — expressed wariness about a possible major uptick in road traffic if wastewater is shipped in and out by truck, as the company has proposed. He also raised the prospect of wastewater polluting the lake.

“We want to make sure that our water stays drinkable,” said Miller.

He also expressed concern that the company would ultimately tap Tchesinkut Lake for fresh water, if the amount shipped in — or obtained from drilling — turned out to be inadequate.

During one tense exchange, Kiel Giddens, a public affairs manager for TransCanada, told Miller that the company was investigating the option of a well, but that hauling water to the site would be the preferred method. Miller was skeptical.

“Until you get some answers, you’re not really convincing me that you’ve got much of a plan,” he said.

A parking lot containing hundreds of vehicles would likely result in oil and other pollutants seeping into the wetlands surrounding the site and contaminating the lake, said Jon Bruce — a plumber by trade — who described Tchesinkut Lake as perhaps the cleanest in the country.

“What are we doing fouling up water that’s going into the cleanest lake in Canada?” he said, adding that Six Mile Road or 700 Road, two sites located closer to Burns Lake, would be more appropriate.

Bernice Petersen said that she’s “strictly against” the proposed camp, saying the area behind Lakeview Mall in town would be a better choice. The presence of 600 transient workers in the area would compromise the feeling of safety enjoyed by people in the idyllic setting of Tchesinkut Lake, she said.

TransCanada has indicated that it may start construction at the site — which is located about 14 km south of Burns Lake — as early as 2019, pending a final investment decision from the LNG Canada consortium.

Open house questioned

Planning officials from the RDBN have said the company has refused to apply for the necessary permits until after contracts have been signed for building and operation of the facility — a delay that RDBN staff say would limit the chance for meaningful public consultation.

“We have been wanting to have TransCanada go through the process of getting the approvals to set up their work camp,” said Melany de Weerdt, chief administrative officer at the RDBN. “They said they’re still not ready to do that yet.”

The open house was meant as a chance for the public to provide input and ask questions about the work camp and the planning process, she said.

But some residents were frustrated with the format of the open house, with its free-for-all atmosphere and information booths, saying that it didn’t provide a chance for people to express their concerns publicly.

“I wish we could have had more of a town hall meeting,” said Kim Dezamits, an area resident, as she filled out one of the sheets provided for gathering comments.

Officials from the RDBN and TransCanada both said they had received 29 comment sheets from the 75 residents who attended the event.

Benson said that TransCanada ”will be taking the comment sheets we received, along with all the verbal feedback and discussions we had with the residents, into the project and camp planning process.”

De Weerdt said the regional district would compile the comments and present them to the RDBN’s board of directors for their consideration in relation to the work camps.

The proposed Tchesinkut Lake camp is one of several facilities meant to accommodate workers along the proposed route of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. The work camp is expected to house some 600 pipeline workers during the peak period of construction, in operations that would span about two years.

Other locations “too small” for camp

Greg Cano, the director of planning and execution for the CGL project, told the Lakes District News that other sites were considered, but they proved to be too small. “We did look at several sites in Burns Lake suggested by local officials but in the end none were large enough to accommodate the camp,” said Cano.

Jacquelynn Benson, communication manager for the Coastal GasLink Pipeline project, said the sites that were considered included the area behind Lakeview Mall — a spot that several Tchesinkut Lake residents said they preferred for the camp.

Cano acknowledged that many of the people at the open house were worried about the potential impacts of the work camp — notably its effects on the watershed — and he said the concerns were valid. He added that the Tchesinkut Lake location wasn’t written in stone. “It’s not too late,” he said. “It’s still a year away from any development.”

Kiel Giddens (right), a public affairs manager for TransCanada, speaking to Ron Miller, a member of the Tchesinkut Watershed Society, about the proposed camp for Coastal GasLink Pipeline workers. (David Gordon Koch photo)