Road crews work on repairing the damage from one of the landslides along the Bish Cove road. Photo Gerry Leibel

Heavy rains caused millions in damage

Repair costs on the Copper River road estimated at $5 million.

Industrial users of provincial resource roads in the area and the province itself are facing millions of dollars in repairs because of damage caused by the heavy fall rains.

In the Kitimat area, Chevron-led Kitimat LNG, which has spent heavily since 2011 on improving the Bish Forest Service Road leading to the planned location of its LNG site at Bish Cove, has already replaced culverts and repaired portions of the road’s surface.

“Due to the rainfall event on September 11, the Forest Service Road (FSR) to Bish Cove at km 1.6 was impacted by a landslide that started approximately 750m upslope on an adjacent property,” said Ray Lord who handles communications for the Kitimat LNG project.

“The road was closed while the landslide material was removed from the road surface. Nearby culverts were repaired and the road surface was restored. A geotechnical evaluation of the landslide slope was performed and work completed to stabilize the slope.”

“Because of another rainfall event on October 23 and 24, sediment carried from swollen streams blocked culverts causing a wash-out of the FSR at km 1.2. The culverts were cleared and normal water flow reestablished. The road surface was temporarily repaired so the road could be reopened,” Lord continued.

More work will take place by the end of the year to replace two culverts, at approximately the 1.4km mark, with larger ones to reduce the risk of more damage should heavy rains fall again.

“In the spring of 2018 additional work will be carried out at the landslide and washout locations to repair the road and return it to original design specifications,” said Lord.

From what was a single-lane rough surface, Kitimat LNG has transformed the Bish FSR to a high-quality industrial road providing a side benefit of greatly improved access by the public to recreation areas.

As a matter of Chevron policy, Lord said it does not disclose details associated with cost estimates or actual expenditures related to ongoing operations.

Skeena Sawmills of Terrace, which logs in the Kitimat area, also had roads it uses affected by the fall rains but the damage was minimal, says Greg Demille, the company’s woodlands manager.

“[The rains] did have an impact but not as much as with other licensees,” he said.

Demille estimated repair costs at $50,000.

By far the greatest damage from fall rains and flooding occurred on the Copper River Forest Service Road east of Terrace which is used by logging companies, BC Hydro, Pacific Northern Gas (PNG) and recreational users.

There, a portion of PNG’s natural gas pipeline which runs alongside the Copper River and which serves Terrace, Kitimat and points west and which is normally covered up, was exposed to the swollen waters of the river.

As well, logging equipment continues to be stranded beyond where road sections and bridges were washed out.

While there was no natural gas service interruption and temporary repairs have been made, PNG is evaluating its next steps, says company vice president Joe Mazza.

“At this time, we cannot comment on the Copper River Service Road or its role in future pipeline upgrades. Any pipeline upgrades to be undertaken in 2018 will require approval by the British Columbia Utilities Commission, PNG’s regulator,” said Mazza.

Projections for what could be involved could surface in the company’s filings to the utilities commission later this year for its costs and rate expectations for 2018 and 2019.

Long-term expectations include relocating sections of the natural gas pipeline as well as new access road portions.

A preliminary estimate by the Ministry of Forest, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development places repair costs on the Copper River road at $5 million.

Specialists have been in the area assessing rock material sources, and quality and distance from where it needs to go, to see if costs can be reduced by finding closer sources of replacement materials, indicated a statement from the ministry.

Companies using resource roads are normally expected to pay for upgrades and maintenance, but in cases of severe damage, the provincial government can pay for a portion of the costs.

There’s no exact cost-sharing formula and discussions are underway on how the Copper River repair costs might be divided.

The forests and lands ministry and road users have been in intensive discussions on how costs might be divided.

“Cost-sharing discussions are being finalized amongst the users. Road repair works for the first portion of the road are underway, with design and layout work for road realignment also being done,” states the ministry.

“The road realignment work will not occur until 2018, as well as any maintenance beyond the realignment.”

In all, nine forest service roads in the region suffered damage from the heavy rains, with most being repaired and re-opened by the third week of October.

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A landslide opposite Rio Tinto. Photo Gerry Leibel

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