The Houston Motor Inn is undergoing interior renovations, the better to attract workers connected to Coastal GasLink pipeline activity. (Houston Today photo)

Houston starting to feel LNG impact

Preparations are leading to significant activity next year

Preparations leading to the construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline to feed the LNG Canada liquefied natural gas plant at Kitimat are starting to be felt in Houston and area.

As many as 100 people from the company and its contractors are already on the ground with about half of them coming from the area, says company official Suzanne Wilton.

They’re involved in skilled trades, professional services, environmental and forestry management and general labour, she said.

Most of the work this year involves access to the pipeline’s right of way, clearing the right of way and installing the first of the work camps along the right of way.

“We are still in the preliminary construction phase and expect the workforce numbers to slowly increase, with peak employment over the next two years during mainline construction,” Wilton said.

Coastal GasLink has contracted four companies for the actual construction of the 670km long pipeline with each undertaking two sections.

One of those companies, the joint venture of Macro Spiecapag, referred to as JVMS, already has an office in Houston and officials from Pacific Atlantic Pipeline Construction have also been circulating in the area.

JVMS will construct the 84km section from south of Houston to the LNG plant at Kitimat as well as a 82km section further east. Pacific Atlantic’s two sections are also south of Houston and stretching eastward toward Burns Lake and are in between the two sections belonging to JVMS.

There’ll be 15 construction camps along the pipeline route from the northeast to Kitimat with eight of varying sizes in the immediate area south of Houston leading toward Kitimat. Three of those eight will be set up this year.

Some of the camps may only house 35 workers while others will have hundreds living in them.

They’re arranged along the route to ensure the efficient use of labour and material.

Wilton said approximately 75 workers in this region will be in camps this year, but that the number will grow substantially next year.

The largest in this area, called Huckleberry, won’t be open until 2020 and at peak capacity will be the home of 700 workers, said Wilton.

“As the work progresses, the number of workers will vary depending upon the work required,” she said in listing the construction sequence beginning with digging the trench in which pipe will be placed on up to welding the pipe together.

Harpal Sahota of the Pleasant Valley Motel and the Houston Motor Inn says his business so far this year has increased by approximately 20 per cent because of pipeline activity.

“My feeling is that next year we will be much busier,” he said in adding he’s getting accommodation queries for this November and December.

“LNG is going to be good for this area. There are a lot of jobs to be created and I hope people will stay in this area and thrive,” Sahota said. “This is going to be a good opportunity.”

Still, Sahota says there is already a shortage of workers and he’s trouble finding people.

“It’s just hard to find reliable people,” he said.

Renovations are also underway at the two properties in anticipation of increased business.

Lance Dinahan of the Silverthorne Mobile Home Park is also focusing on accommodations for a pipeline-related workforce.

He’s planning on adding as many as 10 spaces for new modular homes, equipping each with furniture and kitchen equipment for ready-to-use rentals.

“They will be 45-feet long and have two bedrooms,” said Dinahan who is targeting this fall to have everything in place.

“I was at the meeting in February and spoke to a couple of interested contractors,” he said of an information session hosted by Coastal GasLink to highlight business opportunities.

Houston and District Chamber of Commerce president Darrin Super has spoken to representatives of one of the companies that will build the pipeline, saying they were well on the way of getting familiar with the area.

“They said next year will be the year, that’s when we’re definitely going to see a large increase in activity,” he said. “But I’ve already heard it’s getting hard to find a place to rent. One person is going to bring in his RV.”

Super’s Bulkley Valley Building Centre has already experienced an economic spin off because of the Coastal GasLink pipeline — First Nations and others opposing its construction have been buying supplies for camps of their own.

If Houston businesses are reporting an increase in pipeline-related activity, so is one company in Smithers — Northwest Truck Rentals.

It’s an independent, non-franchise company owned by Fred and Lexie Wilson, specializing in work-ready trucks and other vehicles.

Founded in 2011 by realizing the potential of providing vehicles to mining and exploration and resource-related companies, Fred Wilson said it is well-positioned for LNG business.

“It’s now 30 per cent of our business, and growing,” he said, adding that the company’s trucks are being used as far west as Kitimat.

The company doesn’t just provide a truck — each is equipped with accessories for bush work such as first aid kits, radios and bear spray, even to the extent of having two spare tires.

“That’s so someone can just step in and go to work right away,” said Wilson. “When you book a vehicle, you will get that vehicle.”

Wilson’s even found himself acting as an informal recreation host — several clients keep mountain bikes at the company’s location for use in their off-work time.

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