Heavy rains and washouts last fall exposed a section of the Pacific Northern Gas natural gas pipeline along the Copper River. Repairs could raise natural gas rates in the region.

Road repair haggling continues

There are also implications for northwestern natural gas consumers

Companies who use the Copper River Forest Service Road (FSR) east of Terrace continue to haggle over how to divide the estimated $2 million needed to repair the road that was damaged during last fall’s heavy rains.

Normally companies using provincial government resource roads are expected to pay for maintenance and upkeep but in the case of extraordinary circumstances, such as the heavy rains of last fall, the province itself can step in to cover some of the repair cost.

The provincial forests, lands and natural resource operations and rural development ministry, which is responsible for the road, circulated the repair estimate based on work required late last year but it and affected companies have yet to agree on how to divide the cost.

“The final design for the realignment is expected to include one bridge or similar structure. At least three structures require repairs because of the rainfall events, and more work may be identified once access is gained beyond the large washout to assess the remaining structures,” said the resources ministry in a prepared statement.

Involved in the ongoing cost division negotiations are Pacific Northern Gas (PNG) because its main natural gas pipeline runs adjacent to the river, BC Hydro, the Coast Tsimshian Resources Partnership Limited which has been logging in the area and BC Timber Sales, the provincial crown agency which auctions off public lands for logging.

The complication, the resources ministry indicated in a statement, is the value to each user the road has to their individual operations.

“The cost sharing agreement is not dependent on how much each road user uses the road. Rather, each road user has different requirements based on their own operational needs,” the ministry stated.

“These needs are considered and factored into the potential options for repair and the associated costs. Due to the total cost estimate for repairs, each party is thoroughly reviewing the cost-sharing agreement.”

In the case of BC Hydro, the provincial crown corporation says that while it has communications equipment in the area, the turn off to that location is several kilometres before where the Copper River road damage begins. And while BC Hydro is committed to helping pay for a portion of the repairs, “the actual amount has not yet been determined, but (at a minimum) will be commensurate with our frequency of use,” BC Hydro official David Mosure said.

PNG has more at stake as a road user because it provides access to its main natural gas pipeline servicing the region which runs adjacent to the Copper River and is buried.

But last fall’s heavy rains washed out the ground cover, exposing sections of the pipeline. And that requires temporary repairs while the utility considers and designs a new route to move and rebury the pipeline.

“Further protection of the temporary bypass lines is being installed to better handle an increase in water levels this spring,” said PNG operations and engineering vice president Joe Mazza of the scale of work involved.

He said PNG has obligations under its Copper River road use permit to maintain the road and not to “replacing major sections of the road.”

“PNG expects the provincial government to lead, fund and make repairs to the Copper River FSR and has escalated this matter” to Doug Donaldson, the forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development minister,” Mazza added. Getting repairs done to the road in a timely manner is critical to PNG so that it can reroute the affected sections of its pipeline. Early estimates of the cost to PNG of its upcoming work were in the $3 million range.

In the meantime, the ministry has made $200,000 available to build a rough road so that logging equipment belonging to small contractors and which was stranded when the road washed out can be removed.

Skeena BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross, who met with logging contractors and spoke with ministry officials on their behalf, said that while long term repairs to the road are important, his immediate goal is to get the equipment back to their owners.

“These people have to put food on the table. They have bills to pay,” he said of contractors’ need to get equipment out and working again.

Ross also called in John Rustad, the B.C. Liberal MLA for the Nechako Lakes riding, for assistance in working on behalf of the logging contractors. An experienced cabinet minister in previous B.C. Liberal governments, including a brief stint as forests minister in the short-lived B.C. Liberal government following the May 2017 provincial election, Rustad proved invaluable, said Ross.

“He was a huge help. He knew the words and terminology,” said Ellis of navigating through the provincial bureaucracy. Ross said the rough road might not be in place until early spring because of winter conditions.

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