UBCIC, Fort St. John city councillors call for shutdown of Site C project during COVID-19

Several leaders are calling for the shutdown of construction work camps associated with the Site C hydroelectric dam on the Peace River in northeastern British Columbia while the province deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The camp, which has 864 people, currently has 12 workers at the site who are self-isolating as of March 26, according to BC Hydro. It says there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Site C. 

Fort St. John, the city closest to the campsites, declared a local state of emergency Tuesday, in part due to concerns infected workers at the site could overwhelm the local hospital. Local states of emergency were suspended by the province Thursday so it can implement a more systemic and uniform response to the pandemic across B.C.

"[If] there was an outbreak at Site C, our hospital would be inundated with patients that we could not handle, that our health system couldn't handle, with the seven ventilators that we have in the community," said Coun. Trevor Bolin, who advocated the site be temporarily shut down.

Coun. Byron Stewart argued for a shutdown as well.

"In all honesty, Site C ... is not a vital thing to our society. It is not an emergency service. It is not a front-line service. It is a structure that is being built," said Stewart. "I personally would like the province to come in, shut it down and send everybody home." 

In a strongly worded letter, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs also asked for a shutdown, citing the risk of spread and the lack of adequate medical services in northeastern B.C.

"Given the close quarters and inevitable contact points at the [worker camp], an outbreak of COVID-19 would be disastrous and with dire implications for nearby communities, including First Nation communities," it read.

BC Hydro says it has committed to not move any Site C worker in self-isolation at camp into the city. The utilities company says it has also implemented several safety measures at the site including scaling back on construction, restricting non-essential travel for employees and consultants and postponing non-essential site tours.

Lori Ackerman, the mayor of Fort St. John, says BC Hydro has worked with Northern Health to build up specific protocols related to the outbreak. 

"What I have been told, and I have not been down there, is the camp has shrunk significantly," Ackerman said. "They have put in place protocols for social distancing and personal hygiene throughout the camp."

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also advocated for balance.

"There's a lot of essential pieces that need to move in our communities, in our province, in our country," she said. "[And] we have put in fairly strict requirements for things like [Site C]."

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.