A Kamloops councillor is calling for Trans Mountain pipeline expansion construction to be postponed, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
But the federal government-owned company told KTW it is “continuously assessing this unprecedented situation and remain focused and committed to ensuring health and safety.”
In a letter to Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix, and in speaking with KTW, Coun. Denis Walsh said transient workers expected in Kamloops to work on twinning the pipeline could promote spread of the virus, during a time when health officials are restricting travel and encouraging social distancing.
“The associated influx of TMX workers represents a direct threat to the health and lives of all Kamloops-area residents, so I therefore am urgently requesting that you order a halt to TMX construction activities under provincial emergency powers associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Walsh wrote in his letter to provincial politicians.
Walsh said between 300 and 500 workers from outside of the city are expected to work on the project.
“That’s not what we need to be bringing into our community right now because, obviously, we want social distancing,” he said. “The transient population, even without this pandemic, we were concerned about the resources — police resources, health resources. Now that we have this crisis, I don’t think that we should be having a large work crew of three to 500 work people coming into our community and all of the negative things that could bring.”
KTW reached out to Trans Mountain.
In an emailed statement, the company said it is now working near Edmonton, Hinton, Jasper, Burnaby and Kamloops. Work in Kamloops involves pump stations and temporary infrastructure sites in the area.
Trans Mountain said it filed its monthly construction schedule with the Canada Energy Regulator this week, with construction in the urban area of Kamloops expected to begin in June, subject to approvals. It was initiatlly expected to begin this month. The estimated timeline for pipeline construction along seven kilometres of urban areas of Kamloops is seven months.
The company said it expects a peak of 240 workers, including a number of local and Indigenous people, on the job in Kamloops. Trans Mountain said it is working with the Kamloops Accommodation Association to identify interest and capacity at hotels, motels and RV parks.
It comes at a time when local hotels have seen significant drops in occupancy rates, due to travel restrictions related to the pandemic.
Asked why the project is going ahead amid the pandemic, the company told KTW it is “continuously assessing this unprecedented situation and remain focused and committed to ensuring health and safety.”
Kamloops mayor said Walsh does not represent council on TMX stance
It appears Walsh doesn’t have much support among fellow council members after penning the letter himself to the province.
Mayor Ken Christian said halting TMX construction is not on council’s agenda at this time and pointed out Walsh was not speaking on behalf of council when he wrote the letter to the province. Walsh did, however, identify himself in the letter to the premier and health minister as a city councillor.
Christian said he has spoken to Walsh about the issue, though what the two discussed would not be disclosed to this newspaper.
“He was opposed to TMX, is opposed to TMX and will be opposed to TMX,” Christian told KTW. “It has nothing to do with the City of Kamloops.”
Walsh previously tried to have Trans Mountain decommission the existing pipeline in Westsyde and relocate it next to the expansion pipeline in the Lac de Boise grasslands above the neighbourhood. Council did not support that endeavour when he drafted a notice of motion on the matter.
During his March 12 State of the City address, when the severity of the pandemic was just beginning to take hold in the River City, Christian called the TMX expansion project in Kamloops a “silver lining” due to the toll the virus would inevitably take on the local economy.
Since that time, myriad Kamloops businesses have shuttered. Christian’s stance on the TMX project, he said, has not changed since that mayoral address.
Trans Mountain cites safety measures amid pandemic
In addition to its comments to KTW, Trans Mountain further addressed the issue in an email to stakeholders on Thursday, citing safety measures that include: staggering work shifts to minimize the number of people at a site, following physical-distancing guidelines between workers, staggering lunches and coffee breaks to minimize the number of people gathering, enhanced cleaning and sanitization protocols, monitoring people entering work sites for fever or sickness and on-site health and safety personnel monitoring.
“With the rapid and changing global situation around COVID-19, we share and understand the questions and observations that are surfacing from Indigenous communities and our stakeholders regarding our project and worker safety,” Trans Mountain president and CEO Ian Anderson said in statement to stakeholders.
"We are continuously assessing this unprecedented situation and remain focused and committed to ensuring health and safety. We are well underway with project construction in several areas of B.C. and Alberta and we plan to continue construction as long as we can do so in a way that protects all of our people and the broader community. We are confident we have executed all the requirements of health authorities and governments and we are continuing to build on those safety measures at all our work and operations sites.”
To date, the province has not restricted construction work, though crews are expected to follow physical-distancing rules.