Construction of the $21.4 billion Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion has brought an economic boom to Valemount, but it’s also brought thousands of workers – many more than the company’s work camp in the area can accommodate.
According to the 2021 Census, the small tourist village of Valemount – located 290 km southeast of Prince George, near Mount Robson - has 1,052 permanent residents and a total of 602 private dwellings. Trans Mountain has a work camp for up to 600 workers just outside the village, and another further south at Blue River for 550 workers.
But between July and September, Trans Mountain has had an average of 2,782 to 3,239 workers per day on site in the North Thompson section of the pipeline, of which only 34 per cent stayed in camps, according to data released by Trans Mountain. More than half (52 per cent) stay in area hotels, rentals and other accommodations, while 14 per cent are residents of the area.
“The impacts on housing and rental price, as well as availability, have been acute with sharp increases and plummeting availability across the Village and neighboring areas. Spaces that would rent for hundreds of dollars prior to the project are currently being rented for thousands. Local listings show single family dwellings available for, at the extreme, as high as $5000 dollars per month,” Village of Valemount CAO Eric Depenau wrote in an email to the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George board of directors on Dec. 12. “This is in part due to a lack of capacity at the camp and high living out allowances creating conditions where locals struggle to compete.”
The village has brought in bylaws allowing RVs to be temporarily used as secondary residences on private property, to try to meet the surge in demand for housing, Depenau added.
The massive influx of people has impacted the village’s roads and water and sewer infrastructure, he added.
“Enormous pressure has been placed on the local economy with shortages of goods noted at local shops such as grocery and pharmacies as example,” Depenau wrote. “Staffing challenges, in part due to inflated rents, have caused some business, including the Village of Valemount, to adjust services and at times operating hours.”
‘RESIDENTS ARE BEING DISPLACED BY PIPELINE WORKERS’
On Wednesday, the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George approved a three-year extension of a temporary use permit for Trans Mountain’s work camp south of Valemount. A public consultation meeting held by the regional district in Valemount on Dec. 5 drew more comments about the workers outside of the camp, than those staying in it.
“Denying this will cause more hardship to the village of Valemount,” said regional district director Dannielle Alan, who represents the Robson Valley area of the district which includes Valemount. “They could have built a 900-person camp. There is between 1,100 and 1,600 extra people living in Valemount. I wish to express dissatisfaction with how Trans Mountain has handled this.”
In an email, Valemount resident and contractor Rashmi Narayan said Trans Mountain didn’t deliver on what residents were told to expect.
“When the TUP was first issued three years ago, the impact on the community was minimized and we were told that no more than 150 people would live outside the camp. The number ballooned to over 800,” Narayan wrote. “The impact on the Village has been a lot more than was communicated or anticipated.”
In an email to the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George board of directors, Valemount Affordable Rentals Society administrator Korie Marshall said the 600-bed camp near Valemount isn’t nearly big enough to accommodate the workers in the area.
“I have no idea how anyone (thought) that this community of about 500 households, about 1,000 residents, with two busy tourism seasons, could possibly absorb between 1,100 and 1,500 additional workers that can’t be accommodated in the camp,” Marshall wrote. “Residents are being displaced by pipeline workers… And our society has a long list of local residents who are looking for housing, and we have no room for them.”
“Trans Mountain’s Worker Accommodation Strategy was approved by the Canada Energy Regulator (CER) and describes the use of camp accommodation along with a mixture of local commercial and rental and RV accommodation options. This strategy was informed by discussions with local stakeholders and strives to provide a balance between economic benefits to communities while minimizing the impact on community services,” a spokesperson for Trans Mountain said in an email. “Construction will be winding down in the Valemount region in Q3 of 2023 with a corresponding decrease in workforce.”