Wednesday July 30, 2014



QUESTION OF THE WEEK

Survey results are meant for general information only, and are not based on recognised statistical methods.



Little ghost towns

How to make temporary work camps a positive regional fixture
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William Stodalka Photo

Blair Lekstrom, Peace River South MLA, examines a map of northeastern B.C.

Work camps bring people and resources into the area, but some believe that the costs to communities outweigh the benefits.

 While nearly every local politician believes that work camps can create strains for regional cities and would like to see more permanent housing, not everyone is so sure about what municipalities or the province should do about current or future work camps within the region.

"Work camps have been a part of our history since we began developing our country," said Peace River South MLA Blair Lekstrom. "I think there's a need for camps, but I think we have struck a pretty good balance ... I look at them as a positive."

Currently, many oil and gas operations place workers in work camps near their oil and gas operations to temporarily house workers.

These work camps could increase if the Site C project is approved, since BC Hydro has said they would bring in work camps to help build them.

Some, like independent candidate Arthur Hadland, believe that the province should look at ways to make these camps more permanent fixtures.

“I think these work camps are a cut and run enterprise in our community,” he said earlier. “There’s no long-term sustainability in them.”

He said that should he be elected as MLA, he would advocate for policies encouraging temporary work camps to become more permanent fixtures.

Current North Peace MLA Pat Pimm said that early on in the process, he suggested that the work camps for Site C be utilized in ways similar to the Olympic Village. However, he believes that organizers would look at the differences between these two types of accommodations.

“There’s a difference in housing for athletes for a few months, versus the state of the building after four or five or six years,” he said. “That might not even be the type of building you want to leave in the community.”

He also praised Site C’s current efforts to build 40 other permanent homes, and for employers who come to local buildings before going to work camps.

On a municipal level, Fort St. John mayor Lori Ackerman said that she believed that more research needed to be done into the impact of the work camps before she could support any moves into making these temporary work camps more permanent, if Site C were to be approved.

“Memorial University out in Newfoundland is doing a nationwide study on camps, and we have spoken to (the University of Northern British Columbia) about doing a potential study on camps so that we really get that good quantifiable information before we go off on making decisions about what should and should not be done,” she added.

Ackerman also said that she has been told by BC Hydro that turning these temporary work camps into permanent homes could be “a very expensive of way of doing business.” This financial information would also have to be looked at.

“You jump off the diving board without checking the water, you’re going to be in trouble,” she said.

For Fort St. John, this is especially important, since these temporary work camps will put additional strains on both local services and local RCMP services. Because the city’s population is more than 15,000, Fort St. John has to pay 90 per cent of its policing costs, while smaller centres do not.

Fort St. John also has many work camps close to their municipality.

“We used to have overflowing hotels and since the ramping up of the industry these camps allow them to be closer to the work area rather than a lot of travelling on the roads,” she said. “We really need the numbers to take a look at the reality.”

Ackerman also said that the effect could have an impact on local real estate, should the project be approved.

“We certainly don’t want to be creating a glut in the housing market that is going to impact the value of the homes that are already owned by the residents in the community … especially if you bought it at that price and now it’s not worth that much.”

Turning these temporary work camps more permanent could cause trouble.

“If you create the reality where these camps have to be more permanent and then you have maybe a slowdown in the industry,” she said.

“Well, all of a sudden you’ve got little ghost towns.”

Cities like Dawson Creek have in the past rejected putting these types of camps near their city limits.

"If you have work camps in or close to the city ... as an investor or developer it can restrict your investment coming in," said Mike Bernier, Dawson Creek mayor.

"We really need to be cognisant of the fact that this can put a strain on the local people as well. When you get 500-man worker camps down near rural roads that can create its own problems."

Bernier also said that by not allowing worker camps, he is hoping to get more investment into permanent homes or hotels within the region.

Bernier is also running to become the MLA for Peace River South. Should he be elected, he will not attempt to change how these work camps are currently being run.

"I think our relationship needs to be between the local government and the businesses, not the province, because we are affected," he said. "In my opinion the provincial government shouldn't be interfering with where or how worker camps are established."

However, he believes that one idea currently being floated is the idea that temporary work camps built to accommodate the Site C could be built into more permanent housing.

“Maybe have something built that may be a little bit more permanent, that definitely has a lot more merit and that should be explored.”

Conservative Peace River South MLA candidate Kurt Peats has said that he will not attempt to change the province’s current regulations on work camps, nor will he attempt to encourage businesses to build more permanent housing within the communities.

“As soon as they’re looking at using taxpayer money to pay for these camps to make them more permanent, that does not make sense,” he said. “The government should never pick winners and losers in business.”

He believes that the strains work camps place on nearby municipalities for things like policing, healthcare, and others could be dealt with through proper policy planning between municipalities before it comes in.

“I’m all for freedom of movement, but a proper policy can be developed,” he said. “We have to get a municipality on the table early on so that they can make their needs known.”

However, he did believe that companies had some responsibilities to help the local economy.

“I am a fan of companies bringing head offices into B.C., I am a fan of companies having residency requirements,” he said. “It’s a free world and people can go where they wish, but if they want to have social licence to work in the communities, they need to have a commitment to bring staff to work in the communities.”

Tyrel Pohl, independent candidate for Peace River South, said that he would like to see some ways of making these camps more permanent and more connected to nearby communities, including the Site C work camps. He also believed that these homes needed to be close enough to communities to be viable for resale.

“If we have something more permanent where they can come into the town, or something that helps stimulate our local economy that would make me a little bit happier,” he said. “That cost could be astronomical if we don’t find a way to get those work camp workers to put their money into our province.”


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