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Fort St. John considers declaring state of emergency

The City of Fort St. John will consider Tuesday declaring a local state of emergency due the COVID-19 pandemic. Council voted today to hold an emergency committee meeting at 1 p.m.
Social distancing was in force at Fort St. John city council, Monday, March 23, 2020, its first meeting since the coronavirus COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. Mayor Lori Ackerman was in quarantine after a trip to Mexico and attended by teleconference, as did Couns. Gord Klassen, Becky Grimsrud, and Tony Zabinsky.

The City of Fort St. John will consider Tuesday declaring a local state of emergency due the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council voted today to hold an emergency committee meeting at 1 p.m., with a recommendation to be forwarded to a special council meeting for a vote by the end of the day.

Mayor Lori Ackerman and Couns. Becky Grimsrud and Tony Zabinsky wanted the decision made today, and voted against a delay and first sending the matter to the emergency committee for consideration.

Chief among the city's concerns are the Site C work camp, where there are currently 16 workers in self-isolation with flu-like symptoms, and concern about the potential for sick workers to be moved into town.

"They would like to have larger accomodations for these people who are self-isolating. Right now to self-isolate at camp they are in their one room with a washroom," Ackerman said.

"To find some larger accommodations is something those people would welcome, and I get that. The problem is if the transmission starts happening in the community, there's no way of stopping that."

There are five confirmed cases of of COVID-19 in the Northern Health region, and Ackerman said health authorities have not informed the city of confirmed or presumptive cases of the contagion in the city.

There are, however, many people self-isolating with symptoms or because they just returned home from travel, council heard.

Councillors who supported sending the matter to the emergency committee said they wanted more time to consider the full range of implications of declaring an emergency and how it would be enforced, as well as its immediate impacts on services such as the RCMP. 

BC Hydro has set aside one 30-room dorm at the camp for workers who need to isolate themselves, and has another four dorms with another 120 rooms that can be used as necessary. Officials could not immediately say Monday whether additional rooms at hotels or at its apartment block in town have also been reserved for sick workers.

Ackerman stopped short of calling for the $10.7-billion project to be stopped entirely as a precaution, but said under an emergency declaration the city could tell BC Hydro to send its sick workers home if they did not want to remain self-isolating at camp.

"Our expectation from BC Hydro is to acknowledge we are a northern community with limited health care services," Ackerman said.

"We have health care workers who were stretched before this pandemic came into place and we want to ensure we can manage that workload because we want health care workers at the end of all of this."

"This is a project that is a significant amount of money and getting those people home safely is just a fraction of that cost," Ackerman said.

Ackerman said the declaration would apply to all industrial work camps in the region, and give it leverage in pressuring the province. 

Ackerman said the declaration would also help to protect city services and manage local issues to limit long-term repercussions caused by the global health emergency. It could also give the city more power to ration local goods and supplies and prevent price-gouging, and co-ordinate community services with residents, Ackerman said.

She said ministerial orders from the provincial government could help resolve these issues. 

There have been 700 workers sent home from Site C since a scale-back in construction was announced on March 18. More workers are expected to be sent home this week. There were 940 people in camp on March 23.

This is a developing story.

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at

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