Camp operations blunt economic good times

Communities had hoped commuting would be a benefit

By Bill Phillips

A friend of mine is a heavy-duty mechanic.

He has worked at Kemess north of Smithers and at Diamet, one of the large diamond mines north of the Arctic Circle. He now works in the oil patch in Fort McMurray.

During all the time he worked in these diverse locales, he never moved away from his home in the East Kootenay. He still lives there … albeit only 12 days at a stretch, or 36 days when he’s on holidays.

Such is camp life at major industrial projects. He really isn’t in camp in Fort McMurray. He’s there during the two weeks he’s at work (12-hour shifts for 12 days straight), and gone for the 12 days he’s off … sharing a company apartment with someone on an opposite shift.

It’s an innovative way for employers to get people to work in isolated places or communities that workers aren’t likely to move to permanently.

It’s now becoming an issue with the Mount Milligan project between Fort St. James and Mackenzie. Mount Milligan Mine is looking at opening up its environmental assessment environmental assessment to make some changes.

One change it would like to make would be to apply to maintain a camp on the mine site during the operational phase. The company expected the commute to either Fort St. James or Mackenzie would take one hour to one hour and fifteen minutes, but it has been taking significantly longer and it may mean asking people to commit to a 15- or 16-hour day, Jocelyn Fraser, director of corporate responsibility for Thompson Creek, told the Fort St. James Caledonia Courier.

The change would also allow the mine to expand its employee catchment area to Prince George, Fraser Lake and Vanderhoof. Officials still feel the four days-on, four days-off schedule would keep the labour in the region, as it wouldn’t allow for travel from other parts of the country or province. The proposed camp could house as many as 300 people.

It’s still a bitter pill to swallow for the communities of Fort St. James and Mackenzie who are expecting mineworkers to take up residence in one of the two communities. Twelve townhouse units in Fort St. James will be available soon, as will 18 modular units in Mackenzie.

The mine is also still continuing work on a 50-lot development in Fort St. James. It already has two single-family residences in Fort St. James and a 23-lot subdivision in Mackenzie.

There has been lots of talk about a shortage of skilled workers in the North.

Here it is.

The move by Mount Milligan is driven by that shortage.

“It’s definitely a job-seeker’s market,” Fraser said.

It’s not great for the communities where these developments are located, but it’s the reality of today’s labour market.

And, in a double-whammy for Fort St. James, the company is now looking at using an existing load-out facility in Mackenzie rather than build a new one in Fort St. James.

 

Bill Phillips is the managing editor of the Prince George Free Press in Prince George, BC and one of its columnists.