Alberta could face big problems getting goods in and out of province due to B.C. floods, landslides

·6 min read
Crews assess a large landslide across Highway 7 at Ruby Creek, B.C., on Monday. The slide was one of several that paralyzed the transportation industry moving goods between the Lower Mainland and the Interior. (B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure - image credit)
Crews assess a large landslide across Highway 7 at Ruby Creek, B.C., on Monday. The slide was one of several that paralyzed the transportation industry moving goods between the Lower Mainland and the Interior. (B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure - image credit)

Albertans could face significant problems getting goods in and out of the province in the weeks and months ahead after flooding and landslides in southern British Columbia cut off highways and disrupted rail lines.

Every major route between B.C.'s Lower Mainland and the B.C. Interior has been cut by washouts, flooding or landslides following record-breaking rainfall across southern B.C. between Saturday and Monday. The B.C. government declared a state of emergency midday Wednesday.

Kent Fellows, a professor of economics at the University of Calgary, told CBC News at Six on Tuesday that the knock-on effects for commercial shipping could be widespread.

Albertans could see disruptions to supplies of many products, from imported electronics out of Asia, to fresh fruit and vegetables from B.C. and down the West Coast of the United States, Fellows said. Thousands of commercial freight trucks are sitting stranded in parts of B.C. between their ports of departure and their delivery points.

Likewise, brace for disruptions in shipping Alberta's oil and other goods to the West Coast, he said.

B.C. Ministry of Transportation/Reuters
B.C. Ministry of Transportation/Reuters

"Unlike the pressures that we faced coming out of COVID on the supply chain, which have been pretty significant, the difference here is not that things are going to show up more slowly … it's that they can't show up at all," he said.

"So once we've sort of drawn down our domestic stocks, once the store shelves are empty and the warehouses in Alberta go empty, you're looking at either trying to find alternative supply chains … or just things not getting here at all."

Since B.C.'s Lower Mainland gets most of its oil and gasoline from Alberta, that province could face an energy supply issue, he said.

"The magnitude of this is really serious, that we have disruptions in highway connectivity, disruptions in rail connectivity — which is a big deal for commercial trade — and now disruptions on the Trans Mountain pipeline," he said.

"If these closures stick around for a while, which it looks like some of them might, we could see some pretty significant pressures at the provincial or even national levels."

There are four highways that connect B.C.'s Lower Mainland with the rest of the province:

  • 1 (the Trans-Canada).

  • 3 (the Crowsnest).

  • 5 (the Coquihalla).

  • And the 99.

They've all been closed by landslides and flooding brought on by an unusual atmospheric river event that dumped a month's worth of rain on some parts of the province's south over the course of two days.

B.C. Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming said in a media briefing on Tuesday that Highway 7 could have a clear path by late Tuesday and Highway 3 might be able to reopen by the end of the weekend, but he wouldn't even hint at when the other three highways could be repaired.

Rail lines have also been affected.

CN Rail said its network has experienced a number of mudslides and washouts near Yale, B.C., and one of its trains partially derailed in an area of the province that has seen almost 300 millimetres of rain in recent days.

Canadian Pacific Railway said in a statement that its operations between Spences Bridge, about 130 kilometres southwest of Kamloops, and Falls Creek are suspended indefinitely because of multiple track outages caused by heavy rain.

CP engineering teams are working to repair the damaged rail corridor as quickly as possible, the railway said.

All rail traffic in and out of the Port of Vancouver has been halted, the port confirmed to CBC News in a statement Tuesday.

Trucks not moving

Transport trucker Mike Duggan, who spoke to the Calgary Eyeopener Wednesday morning, said he was stuck in Barriere, B.C., just north of Kamloops, with a load of Alberta pork destined for Japan.

"It's chilled right now. I don't know how long the customer wants it to sit here. You know, it's safe in my trailer, it's at the correct temperature," he said.

"And I'm not sure what the sailing time is to Japan, I'm guessing probably about five or six days, but by golly we've got to get it to the boat first."

Duggan said he's sitting in a parking lot with about 35 trucks.

Down the road in Kamloops, a colleague told him there are more than 2,000 truckers stuck, unable to move their goods.

Detouring through the U.S. could be an option for some truckers, Duggan said, but not for him because his load isn't bonded and he didn't bring his passport.

"And I'm not sure the U.S. is wild about a whole bunch of trucks traipsing through Washington in order to get back up into Vancouver," he said.

"They may make some arrangement, Ottawa and Washington, but at this point I've not heard anything about that."

David Yip, co-owner of City Fish in Calgary, told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday that the situation in B.C. is already starting to have an impact on his bottom line.

"Most of the transportation to ship the fish to Calgary is by ground transport. However, now it's all shut down, so we've got to think of alternatives," he said. "The only way is flying."

But flying the fish and seafood from Vancouver to Calgary will cost Yip's business three to four times as much as trucking it, he said.

Yip said he's hopeful the routes don't remain blocked for too long so that they're not forced to pass on the cost increases to their restaurateur and supermarket clients.

Chris Nash, president of the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA), says his group is working with counterparts in B.C. and the Alberta government to find ways to keep goods moving.

Nash said arranging access to U.S. corridors could be part of the solution.

"What we're trying to do, for immediate attention, is reaching out to support our partner association, the B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA), to provide whatever resources we can to support commercial drivers out there," he said.

"We're also looking for opportunities for Alberta companies to offer support for affected communities, helping ensure the supply chain in B.C. experiences as few interruptions as possible."

Premier asks for relaxed COVID-19 protocols

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he has asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to consider relaxing some of the country's travel-related COVID-19 protocols for truckers who will now need to transport goods through the United States.

WATCH | Alberta's premier says Canada is already dealing with supply chain challenges:

"In terms of testing and other protocols, we need to make sure that we do everything we can to facilitate movement of those goods through the United States to come back north into Alberta," he said.

Kenney said the world economy is already dealing with supply chain challenges, which will now become acute for Alberta.

Kenney also said he has reached out to B.C. Premier John Horgan to "offer any support that Alberta can provide."

He also said Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver and Kenney's chief of staff, Pam Livingston, have reached out to their counterparts in the province.

"First of all, just to say on behalf of Alberta that we stand behind British Columbians who have been affected by weather-related flooding and damage," Kenney said.

"So many Albertans are originally from B.C., they have relatives and family there. So I know that we're all concerned … we all indicated to Premier Horgan our willingness to be helpful."

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