The Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline project of TC Energy could prove to be an economic boom for Burns Lake and northern British Columbia.
As many as 2,500 jobs will be created across the region during the pipeline’s four-year construction phase, according to TC.
The company estimates that the 7-Mile Road Multi-Use Site, just north of Tchesinkut Lake will accommodate 600 workers who will build the section of pipeline that passes south of Burns Lake. Then there’s the contractors who will clear trees for the pipeline route and provide other services like snow clearance and road works.
And then there’s the camp staff, including management and administrative personnel with Pacific Atlantic Pipeline Construction, cooks, maintenance workers, security, and other roles.
On top of that is the added business that local shops, restaurants, bars and services will receive from the influx of hundreds of workers tied to the project.
In fact, there could be so many customers and new people in town that local supply might not meet demand.
But fast forward to 2024 or 2025 when the pipeline is finished and natural gas is flowing through to the processing facility in Kitimat. What happens then? The camps will be dismantled, local workers will have to find other jobs and the workers who came here for the project and who called Burns Lake home for a few years will probably go elsewhere.
Still, there will be permanent jobs. TC estimates that across the 670-kilometre length of the pipeline 16 to 35 permanent pipeline maintenance and monitoring positions will be created. But it’s a long pipeline that passes by several communities and only a handful of people in Burns Lake will get those jobs.
And there will be continuous revenue in the form of $20.88 million in annual property taxes to local governments, of which the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako will get $8.36 million.
That influx will help fund local infrastructure and community projects in the region, but will it develop the local economy so that long-term, sustainable jobs are created?
An optimistic outlook is that the heightened activity in skilled jobs that the pipeline will generate could spur people to open new businesses, such as tradespeople starting new contracting companies, or camp service staff opening new restaurants.
However, a pessimistic view is that since Burns Lake will only be a transit point for the pipeline, the reason all those jobs were created will lose relevance. With forestry not as strong as it was years ago, there won’t be any new resource for those workers to develop. Some might decide to go somewhere with more demand for their skills.
Burns Lake should be excited about the jobs and economic activity the pipeline will create. But it should also consider how it can leverage the economic upswing to its long-term advantage to develop business and draw people to the community.
If the opportunities of the pipeline aren’t pursued wisely, the economic boom risks becoming a bust.