650-person work camp near Fort St. John faces conditions

100 km north of Fort St. John, camp must provide lagoon for sewage disposal and register with Northern Health

The Peace River Regional District is trying to get a handle on the growth of work camps in the Peace Region, even if they have to do it one camp at a time.

PRRD directors decided to place conditions on approving the latest permit for a 650-person work camp that is planned for the Gundy Creek area. The camp would house workers for TransCanada Corp. pipeline projects, said officials from Horizon North Camps and Catering, which will manage the site.

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The two main restrictions placed on the camp are requiring it to provide its own lagoon for sewage disposal, as well as requiring it to register with Northern Health.

“Those are the two that I think give us a little bit of leverage,” said PRRD Chair Karen Goodings, who also represents Area B where the Gundy Creek camp is set to go up.

However, over the course of the conversation at last Thursday’s meeting, more conditions were added. The camp will have to get a potable water source outside of the city of Fort St. John. It will need to provide onsite medical coverage for its workers. And it will need to address any invasive plants on its property.

Construction could begin on the camp in late spring or early summer 2015, according to Horizon North’s regulatory services manager, Bill Esau, who presented the application to the board last Thursday.

Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman expressed concern with where water for the camp would come from, stating that the city’s water supply would not be able to support a camp of this size. Esau responded by saying that they would be applying for a well permit to provide potable water on site.

Esau was instructed to work with staff to ensure they followed through with the board’s conditions before they were issued the permit.

However, while it may be easy for the district to impose restrictions, it may be much harder to actually enforce them once the permit has been given, as some board members pointed out.

“How do we know you’ll follow through after the permit has been issued?” asked Goodings. She said that was something that the board would look into, adding that she hoped to arrive at a solution early next year.”

The Horizon North permit became part of a larger conversation about the potential problems with work camps. Goodings specifically pointed to impaired driving and irresponsible use of firearms as issues of concern for her.

She urged Esau to consider what she called a “wet room” to accommodate controlled drinking on camp property, an idea that he said he was amenable to.

Although this is not a new conversation, especially on the PRRD level, Goodings reiterated how useful it would be to have one registry for all camps, regardless of size or purpose. Esau told the board that he agreed.

“For me, as a regulatory officer in our company, it would make my life a whole lot easier, because then I’m not dealing with several different departments of the government,” he said. “Even between some of the departments – depending on who’s taking the call that day – values can change.”

The board also saw a letter from the attorney general of British Columbia, Suzanne Anton, in response to the PRRD’s concerns with a shortage of policing in remote camps, which directors brought up at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities Convention earlier in the year.

“I have instructed Ministry staff to contact the Peace River Regional District to discuss the options available to address this issue,” read the letter.

Goodings highlighted the problems around Pink Mountain, also in her constituency area.

“You’ve probably got 100 residents who have lived in that area for 70 years, and all of a sudden you have a community of 5,000,” she said. “So their concerns are very real.”  


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