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Work camp policy strangling Hudson's Hope economy: business owners

With a $5 billion natural gas pipeline on its doorstep, Hudson's Hope should be booming.

With a $5 billion natural gas pipeline on its doorstep, Hudson's Hope should be booming.

Instead, several business owners in the town of 1,100 say a new Progress Energy policy requiring employees and contractors to live in company worker camps is cutting local businesses out of economic benefits.

Hudson's Hope Mayor Gwen Johansson and several business owners are asking Progress Energy to relax its camp policy, saying it prevents employees from spending money on food, hotels and other local services.

But so far, the company is standing firm, saying camps are the best way to keep its workers and Hudson's Hope residents safe.

Progress, a Petronas subsidiary, is gearing up to supply gas from Northeast B.C. to the Pacific NorthWest liquefied natural gas plant near Prince Rupert, where it would be processed for shipment to Asia. The gas would flow through TransCanada's proposed Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline, which begins in Hudson's Hope.

The company decided in mid-May to require construction and drilling workers to live in camp.

In an email, a Progress representative defended the policy, saying camps cut down on traffic and noise while improving worker safety.

"This decision to have construction, drilling and completion workers on rotation stay in camps has not been made in isolation," said Progress spokesperson Stacie Dley. "It was based on prior dialogue with ... stakeholders in the communities where we operate."

"This issue is complex, and while our decision may not be agreeable to all area business owners, we believe it is in the best interest of the great majority of the community," she added.

The camp policy has been especially tough on apartment owners and RV park operators who rent to oilpatch workers.

Terri Clark, who owns the Lynx Creek RV park, said the camp policy is new to Progress Energy, adding the town prospered when Talisman Energy operated in the area.

"When Talisman was up there, they supported our community huge," she said. "Their workers stayed at the local campgrounds and in the hotels. It was a very booming little community."

That began to change when the Calgary-based company sold its Montney holdings to Progress in early 2014.

Harry Bolliger, owner of the Williston Lake Resort, says he has already seen a drop in business.

"We had reservations from the Progress guys in our RV park and in the lodge," he said. "The last two or three years, the [employees] would stay in our camp. Then Progress says 'everyone has to go in camp,' and now we're empty."

Despite the massive investment nearby, some apartments are largely vacant. Dennis Beattie, who manages an apartment building in town, said half of his 36 units are unoccupied. "There are no workers in it," he said.

"It's taken a toll on Hudson's Hope, the whole town," he said of the work camp policy.

Scott Linley, a convenience store owner, said that despite some economic trickle down, some businesses are souring to Progress.

"They may have legitimate reasons from their point of view to keep people in camp," said Linley. "However, what ends up happening is the perception from local businesses is that not only are they coming in and [taking out] resources, [they're] not even dropping crumbs in town."

The District of Hudson's Hope has raised the issue with the company, but Mayor Gwen Johansson said Progress officials stood firm at a June 14 meeting.

"They've taken the stand that they're going to enforce their policy of having everybody in camp," she said. "Basically, there was no discussion of that. That's what they're going to do."

"It is difficult, and we're not sure if there's anything we can do to change their mind," she added.

The concerns about worker camps are not unique to Hudson's Hope. Encana, for example, is building a 1,200 person camp 55 kilometres outside Dawson Creek, which business owners say keeps workers from spending money in town. The Dawson Creek Chamber of Commerce has been an outspoken critic of camps, saying local businesses are too small to win lucrative contracts to supply the facilities.

"[Camp policies] are pretty straight across," said director Kathleen Connolly. "That's how [industry is] doing business these days, and it is frustrating."

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