British Columbia

'Crazy busy': Boom from $40B LNG plant in northwestern B.C. leaves communities scrambling to keep up

The construction of a $40-billion LNG Canada export facility and work camp in northwestern B.C. is creating new opportunities, but it's also creating challenges for small businesses and local governments attempting to keep up.

Influx of newcomers is a 'blessing and a curse' for locals, city of Terrace says

Freda Barton has shut down her barbershop in downtown Prince George and has moved back home to Kitimat to start cutting hair for camp workers arriving at the region's $40-billion Canada LNG project. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

After 25 years of cutting hair in downtown Prince George, Freda Barton is doing something she never expected: moving back home to Kitimat to cash in on northwestern British Columbia's economic boom.

"The whole town is just crazy busy," Barton said. "I'm really excited."

Barton will be helping Kitimat's Nechako Barber Shop set up a mobile studio to service a 4,500-person work camp being built in support of the $40-billion LNG Canada export facility.

But though the mega-project is creating new opportunities in the region, it's also creating challenges for both small businesses and local governments attempting to keep up with rapid growth. 

Aside from needing more barbers, communities say they also need more police and bylaw officers to respond to some of the problems that come with a rapidly growing population — but questions remain about who will pay for that.

Rentals in short supply

Already, approximately 1,000 workers are in place and the impact can be seen everywhere, said Nechako Barber Shop owner Tracy Best.

"Everybody's got 'Help Wanted,' signs," she said, adding it's difficult to recruit people into service-industry positions with high-paying camp jobs nearby.

Even so, the Kitimat Chamber of Commerce is warning people against simply showing up in town expecting to cash in.

Construction is underway on a massive work camp to support the LNG Canada project near Kitimat. Up to 4,500 people will be housed in the camp at any one time, and workers will be supplied with dining, recreational and medical services on site, the company says. (LNG Canada)

Rental units are in high demand so it's best to have both a job and a place to live lined up before deciding to move northwest, said chamber president Daniel Chimko.

"I mean, in terms of those [service] jobs, you can probably start the next day," he said. "But again, you've got to make sure you have your first couple months rent in hand so that you're not left out in the street."

Construction is also underway on new townhouses and a new hotel to accommodate the growing population, which isn't limited to Kitimat. The nearby city of Terrace, which acts a service centre for the region, is also being impacted, said city CAO Heather Avinson.

"With a big project like this ... there's an influx of people that come to the area," Avinson told CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk. 

"And it's happening more quickly than we expected."

New activity straining local resources: City of Terrace

Avinson said while the economic activity is welcome, it also has a downside: people in the community are seeing more visible homelessness, drug use and property crime.

Avinson said she didn't want to attribute all the negative changes to LNG Canada, but said it's likely some of the challenges can be attributed to new people arriving in the region.

"It's a blessing and a curse," she said.

The city wants to add more police and bylaw officers to its roster in 2020 in order to respond, and hopes the province and companies behind LNG Canada will be willing to help pay for those costs.

LNG Canada said it's designing the project with nearby communities in mind, attempting to provide as many services — from medical to recreation — as possible within its 400-hectare work camp in order to minimize disruption.

Spokesperson Susannah Pierce said LNG Canada is also working with the province and local governments to monitor numbers on everything from housing prices to crime rates.

"We can then look at the data and get a better understanding of how we work collectively to address some of those concerns," she said.

Avinson said LNG Canada has been responsive, and eager to contribute to projects such as the recent purchase of a new highway rescue truck for the Terrace fire department. But she said what's really needed is ongoing funding injected into Terrace's municipal budget.

Both Terrace and Kitimat are members of the Northwest B.C. Resource Benefits Alliance, which advocates for more money from major projects in the region to be invested directly into municipalities. 

Pierce didn't say whether the company would or would not be willing to pay municipalities ongoing funding, but instead said they would engage in an "open dialogue."

B.C. Premier John Horgan has committed to negotiating a revenue-sharing agreement with those communities, but terms  have yet to be worked out.

Meanwhile, Avinson said, Terrace is looking at a seven per cent tax increase in 2020 just to keep up with demand for city services.

"That is not insignificant," she said. "But it's what we need to do."


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About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.

With files from Matt Allen and Daybreak North

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