Mayor in northeast B.C. weighs in on Kitimat’s work camp issues

Bill Streeper speaks on the issue of work camps and how they fit in to his vision in Fort Nelson.

The mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality has seen first hand the effects of work camps in a community.

So when asked for his thoughts in regards to the proposals facing Kitimat, he warns the benefits are unlikely to materialize for local businesses.

The Sentinel sought Bill Streeper out after a resident at last week’s work camp town hall meeting recalled hearing a set of speakers from a few years back, which included Streeper. She said Streeper, talking of development and expansion, told the attendees that his community absolutely did not let large work camps into Fort Nelson.

Streeper confirms that is his perspective.

“The value for the community out of this [local camps] compared to the deficit to the community was vast. They carried no value,” he said.

He spoke primarily of industry-created work camps rather than worker accommodation companies such as PTI Group.

“When camps of this size are too close to the community they carry too many social problems,” he continued.

He used the example of a large group of men all deciding to go to the bar at once to have beers, with the potential for things like fights to break out.

But is there benefit to the community beyond liquor establishments? Not from temporary workers, he says.

“You get a lot of the retailers say ‘no, we want the business.’ Well, there is no business. They’re not going to town shopping, they’re not buying a gift for their wife or girlfriend back home,” he said.

He said his community has accepted smaller scale accommodations for local companies who need a place to house their workers when no other place is available. But with local companies it’s easier to deal with them if there are issues, and their accommodations don’t run higher than about 50 typically.

So what’s the solution? Focus on the permanent workers.

“You’ve got to start working to make sure you’ve got housing, subdivisions they [permanent workers] can go in,” he said.

The money for a community is not made from temporary workers, he said, but from the people who will stick around for a project’s operations.

“If you end up, for example, getting 50 people…you’re going to need another 150 just to service them guys,” he said.

“You want to start hitting the ground with them and say ‘no, we won’t allow your camps in the community because we don’t want you flying the permanent people in and out of here.”

As far as the community goes, it needs to know upfront how many people will be needed to run a facility like an LNG plant, how many support workers they expect (tug boats, for instance), and if the company has a plan to house these people, and what that plan is.

Once a town can get a handle on what to do with permanent workers, then it will see the benefits, he said.

The Sentinel is seeking out comment from PTI Group about their experiences operating within communities as well, however we could not reach them by our press deadline.

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