By Laura Keil
It’s normal protocol for large projects to make contingencies, given the cost of delays and sometimes hard deadlines. I find it interesting and troubling that Trans Mountain had no such contingencies for housing an expanded workforce, a possibility that must have been there all along.
This editorial is by no means “anti-pipeline” or whatever easy labels are cast about whenever one dares to raise criticism about an element of the project. My goal here, at this very late stage of the game, is to think about lessons learned. And one of the biggest lessons is for the Canadian Energy Regulator.
Valemount is not lacking in available land to build camps. What should have happened, from the very beginning, is a contingency plan. The Canadian Energy Regulator could have looked at the proposal and said “You think you need X number of workers in camp, but you need to at least show us the sketch of an idea for doubling that.”
Trans Mountain’s new line is that it will take “6-10 months” to get approval from the Energy Regulator to expand the existing camp to 900 workers (ie. there’d be no point since the project would be winding down by then). So the other change should be an expedited approval process when impacts on the local community are getting out of hand. Personally I still think Trans Mountain should be applying for this expansion. Their stated aim of winding down next summer could very well not occur.
A strengthened feedback loop with the public would have also helped. Trans Mountain’s claims that they have only received a handful of formal complaints through the company does nothing to improve their image with locals who’ve seen the impacts.
Many locals have benefitted from this project, and it has brought a renewed vitality to some parts of the community. But having a 50/50 chance of getting milk at the grocery store would not be part of anyone’s ideal plans.
On the Village’s part, there are lessons too, and I hope as a community we can look at contingencies there too. Building more housing – perhaps a public-private partnership – would be a great place to start. After this experience many business owners see the writing on the wall – they can’t always rely on the private market to provide housing for their employees.
The project may be in its final stretch, but that doesn’t mean our ideas should be.