Saskatchewan

Assiniboia residents fear construction project could bring COVID-19 to town

Assiniboia, Sask., Mayor Bob Himbeault says his constituents are concerned about the ongoing construction of a wind power plant that employs mostly out-of-province workers. There are worries the workers will bring COVID-19 into the town.

Company asking out-of-province employees to avoid contact with the public

A wind power plant, like this one near Pugwash, N.S., is in the early stages of construction in Assiniboia, Sask. (Cassie Williams/CBC)

Assiniboia, Sask., Mayor Bob Himbeault says his constituents are concerned about the ongoing construction of a wind power plant that employs mostly out-of-province workers. There are worries the workers will bring COVID-19 into the town.

He's now sent a letter to the provincial government, asking them consider putting the project on hold.

"We've been getting lots of phone calls and, really, I guess our first thought was, 'Would it be feasible to postpone this project?' and if it's not feasible, could we get some safeguards put in place that would would limit the interaction with our community."

Himbeault is caught in the middle of a precarious situation. In August 2019, he touted the Golden South Wind project, telling The Assiniboia Times it would be provide a "shot in the arm" for the community.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the Golden South Wind Project was held in August 2019. (CBC)

Now, he's having to juggle that economic boon with the safety concerns of some residents. At the end of the day, he said it's not within his jurisdiction to make a final decision.

"It's the [provincial] government's decision. They're the ones who oversee that," Himbeault said, about the continuing construction. "We've had communication and I believe there could be some response coming maybe [Tuesday]."

The province said it's aware of the concerns of the residents of Assiniboia, and will conduct a review of the Golden South Wind Project in order to respond to them.

In a statement to CBC, it said a health inspector has already been in contact with the local motel housing some of the workers and was "satisfied overall with the operation of the facility."

Resident says health should be prioritized over economics

Dwayne Woolhouse is one of the citizens concerned about an influx of out-of-town workers in the community. The organic farmer said he and the rest of the town's residents have been careful about protecting themselves and others. He said it's irresponsible to have people from out-of-town continuing to work in the community.

"If it was put on hold for two months it's not going to risk anybody's health," he said. "We're not going to run out of power, and I think people's health and their lives are more important than economics."

These are tough times and I think you've got to look at the big picture here and we all have have a role to play in this.- Bob Himbeault, Assiniboia mayor

Woolhouse is worried about his 90-year-old mother, who also lives in Assiniboia. He said he's doubtful the province will force the project to stop, but he hopes the company in charge, Potentia Renewables, decides to put a pause on the project without government intervention.

Company not planning to stop

Jeff Jenner, Potentia's CEO, said the company isn't considering putting the project on hold or scaling back operations at this time.

"The government of Saskatchewan has deemed construction a critical service," Jenner said. "As such, we continue to meet and exceed the protocols set out by Saskatchewan Public Health, the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, as well as South Saskatchewan COVID Response."

Jenner said by the end of April, 90 people will be working at the site. Of those, approximately 36 will be from Saskatchewan, 18 from Alberta and the rest from other provinces. Jenner said when the project hits its peak, several months from now, there will be about 170 workers on site. He said all employees have "industry knowledge and experience critical to a project of this magnitude."

Jenner said the company understands there is a large amount of stress and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, and the company has continually been revising its protocols.

All incoming employees are required to abide by the following rules before coming to work in Assiniboia:

  • Complete a questionnaire to assess risk factors for COVID-19 infection.
  • Self-isolate for 14 days before travelling to Saskatchewan work site if they have been out of the country.
  • Stay home if they show symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

The company said out-of-province workers will also be required to avoid contact with the local community for 14 days in which they are only permitted to travel between the work site and their lodgings. Accommodations will be made to have supplies delivered to the workers when needed.

A portion of the Golden South Wind Project currently under construction in Assiniboia. (Submitted by Cheri Cowan)

Woolhouse thinks it's ironic that he can't make the short trip south of the Canadian border to pick up supplies he needs in the United States, while a company is allowed to bring in employees from all over Canada.

As for Himbeault, he's encouraging his constituents to continue taking physical distancing precautions seriously. He said that's the best way to ensure one doesn't come in contact with an infected person.

"These are tough times and I think you've got to look at the big picture here and we all have have a role to play in this," he said. "It's not just the government or the municipality or the companies, It's the general public. And they've actually got a bigger role to play than anybody: adhere to the guidelines."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Rodgers is a videojournalist and producer with CBC Saskatchewan.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now