Written by: Madeleine Chan, Staff Writer

Construction of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP) is continuing in BC and Alberta during the COVID-19 pandemic. In BC, construction is currently underway in Kamloops and on Burnaby Mountain at the Burnaby and Westridge Marine and Terminals.

The Public Health Act implemented by the BC government, which limits gatherings of 50 or more people, does not apply to construction sites as they are considered essential services. However, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has directed employers to take “all necessary precautions” with similar guidelines to the Public Health Act.

Ali Hounsell, Manager of Communications at Trans Mountain, told The Peak that they had to “adjust protocols quite quickly” to adhere to these guidelines. 

“Our office workers, like most people, switched to a work-from-home environment where possible.” 

Regarding construction workers, Hounsell stated that “each work site is unique” with the nature of some having workers already at distances. 

“We worked with our general contractors to ensure that we met all protocols and advice and requisitions by health authorities, and we’re able to do that using a number of measures.” 

According to their website, Trans Mountain has taken several measures that Trans Mountain in compliance with COVID-19-related guidelines. This includes, but is not limited to, enhanced cleaning and sanitation protocols, reduction in seats on transport buses, and staggering work shifts and breaks amongst other distancing and health protocols. 

There are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Trans Mountain’s workforce according to a quarterly report. Hounsell mentioned that they have one suspected case in Alberta.

“When we’ve had any suspected cases, there’s a whole self-reporting policy. Even I have to self-report on a weekly basis [ . . . ] On our worksites, people are temperature screened when they come to the site. They’re asked to self-declare — there’s a questionnaire they have to fill out. And so anyone who declared any symptoms or didn’t pass the temperature check were tested [for COVID-19].” 

When asked if workers are following the guidelines, Hounsell said that “it’s something [they] take really seriously.” 

“We’ve asked all of our contractors on the expansion project and all of our people at our facilities to ensure that things are being adhered to on a daily basis [and] on an hourly basis.”

“There are some cases with construction or the type of job you’re doing that you do need to have closer proximity. And in those cases there are special protocols that need to be taken, in terms of PPE and equipment, so where people can’t socially distance because of the type of work they are doing, which is a reality in some types of construction.”

Despite changes in protocol, Hounsell said that the project is on track to be completed in 2022.

Concerns about the continuation of construction have been raised from multiple parties, including the Mayor of Kamloops, since the beginning of COVID-19 restrictions in BC. Burnaby residents have also expressed concern by taking photos showing workers at the Burnaby Terminal not following social-distancing protocols.

Tiny House Warriors, an anti-pipeline group that builds and lives in houses along the TMEP route, said in a press release that the BC government deeming construction sites “essential services” is a “cynical attempt to take advantage of our impaired mobility to push the extractive industries onto our land.”

“By pushing them through our territories during a deadly pandemic, the resource company invasion is not only an ongoing violation of our jurisdiction, the contagious man camps they had set up on our land could be a death sentence for our people.”

The Supreme Court of Canada recently declined to hear an appeal by the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, and Coldwater First Nations that challenged the re-approval of the construction of the pipeline in February of this year. This is the second challenge to the Federal Court of Appeal among their eight years of opposition to the project.

Tsleil-Waututh Chief Leah George Wilson stated in a video reaction that the decision “is a setback for reconciliation” but that they have “vowed to explore all legal options to protect their rights, land, water, and climate.”

As construction of the Burnaby Terminal and Westridge Marine Terminal continue, preparations for the Tunnel Portal through Burnaby Mountain are also underway. According to the Canadian Energy Regulator, construction of the pipeline through Burnaby Mountain is expected to begin around fall or winter of this year and “take upwards of two years to complete.”

SFU has stated its opposition to the TMEP in the past and released a report in 2016 that details an “increased risk to SFU from the TMEP” from the potential environmental hazards and “blockage of the single evacuation route.” The City of Burnaby has also openly opposed the pipeline expansion since 2014, citing public safety and environmental concerns.

The Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) recently reaffirmed their opposition to the project “due to its environmental impacts and safety risk to the SFU Community.” SFSS President Osob Mohamed stated on their website that “the safety of SFU students and community members is our top priority.”