No groceries, no rooms, few complaints: economic boom returns to northeastern B.C. community

No groceries, no rooms, few complaints: economic boom returns to northeastern B.C. community

A combination of pipeline projects and coal mining have added an influx of workers into Chetwynd, a small community in northeastern British Columbia — and made it difficult for locals to get fresh produce.

That was driven home for Lucas Stuart when he tried to buy fresh berries for a Valentine's Day dinner last week and found the produce shelves completely empty.

"I was a little taken aback," he said. 

Stuart said his community of just over 2,000 people has been noticeably busier in recent months and, lack of groceries aside, he was happy to see the change.

"It's good for the local economy, the hotels and restaurants. It means the lines are a little longer, and you have to put up with that... but overall, I think it's been a really positive thing for our town," he said.

Located about 300 kilometers northeast of Prince George, Chetwynd sits at an intersection of highways leading to Hudson's Hope and Fort St. John in the north, Dawson Creek in the east and Tumbler Ridge to to the south.

As such, it's something of a service centre for resource projects in each of those communities, said Chamber of Commerce executive director Naomi Larsen.

"Chetwynd is a boom and bust town, and right now we're experiencing an incredible boom," she said. "It's incredibly busy here."

Among the projects driving the boom: the ongoing construction of the Site C hydroelectric dam, the expansion of a series natural gas transmission lines by Enbridge and the re-activation of coal mines in nearby Tumbler Ridge.

No vacancy

Larsen said in her twelve years of living in Chetwynd, she's never seen things so busy.

"There is zero vacancy at the moment for any hotels, motels, private rentals, apartments," she said. 

In September 2017, the local council approved the temporary set-up of two work camps in the community to accommodate up to 566 temporary workers.

Still, Larsen said some people are staying campgrounds as temperatures plunge.

"Even in –30, –40, there are some of those workers toughing it out in RVs," she said.

End in sight

Though she's heard some complaints from businesses unable to recruit workers or keep their shelves stocked, overall Larsen said the mood in the community is good.

Plus, she said, booms don't last forever.

"You speak to a lot of business owners and residents in town, they're like, 'oh, it's so busy here.' But they know, when spring comes, there will be a bit of a break before things pick up again," she said.

"There's a light at the end of the tunnel."

With files from Josh Pagé and CBC Radio West