Pacific Northern Gas spends $6 million to move and protect gas line near Terrace

But larger issue of repairs to forest service road stemming from 2017 flood remains unresolved

Heavy rains last fall exposed a section of the Pacific Northern Gas line along the Copper River east of Terrace. The utility has just completed a major project to move the section to a safer location. (File photo)

Pacific Northern Gas (PNG) has now finished a $6 million project to repair and move its natural gas pipeline along the Copper River Road east of Terrace, a section of which was exposed following heavy rains and flooding in the late fall of 2017.

The project involved relocating 840 metres of PNG’s pipeline which serves Kitimat, Terrace and Prince Rupert away from the Copper River to above the 200-year flood plain level in that area.

Temporary repairs had been made while planning and then undertaking the project, said PNG vice president Joe Mazza.

“For the past year, PNG has continued to deliver natural gas to customers, safely and reliably, without any interruption,” he said.

Following the exposure of the pipeline to the elements, PNG ran a parallel bypass pipeline and then protected it from the prospects of the Copper River flooding again by constructing an armoured dyke in advance of the permanent move.

The 2017 event was not the first time flooding and washouts had potentially affected the gas line running alongside the Copper River and the Copper River Forest Service Road.

First built in 1968, the line was washed out in 1978, moved in 1984 and again in 1986 with the latter project involving moving the line so that the forest service road was between it and the river.

“The elevation of the forest service road was approximately that of a 200-year flood event, but the rock armour used in its construction was not durable and undersized…,” PNG explained to its regulator, the BC Utilities Commission, in outlining its work plan for this year.

“Threats and at-risk areas will be identified and

action plans developed so that risks can be addressed in a proactive manner,” PNG added of an overall approach it will now take to safeguard the length of its pipeline serving the area.

Mazza said PNG will be relying on insurance to cover most of the repair costs, minimizing the impact on ratepayers.

”The details of the claim have not been finalized at this time, however, the repair costs are capital in nature and will be recovered over the life of the pipeline,” he said.

PNG estimated that the average residential customer would see an increase of $3 a year to pay for the project but that the amount has been absorbed in the dollar value of rate decreases for 2018 and 2019.

The 2017 floods along the Copper River also washed out sections of the Copper River Forest Service Road, in some cases stranding logging equipment.

The prospect of repairing the road touched off a fierce debate between the provincial forests, lands and natural resource operations and rural development ministry, which has jurisdiction over the road, and its licensed users over who should shoulder the costs.

The province maintained the position that the roadwork does not qualify as a capital project to be financed entirely by itself and expected licensed users to chip in.

Included in the discussions was the provincial BC Timber Sales agency which puts up smaller sections of forest for logging bids.

Damage to the road is such that it was closed for public use last fall and remains closed to this day.

Presently there is no coordinated or shared road repair plan and some licensed users, including Coast Tsimshian Resources, are making their own repairs along sections of the road.

Work to date includes new road construction, bridge installations, culvert installations, bridge repairs, road re-aligned, landslide removal, slope failure repairs and road stabilization.

The forests, lands and natural operations and rural development ministry “did not agree to fund a joint road/pipeline project,” indicated Mazza.

“As such, PNG’s completed permanent repair project focused on the pipeline and does not include a road or right-of-way access. The road itself is the responsibility of [the ministry],” said Mazza who added his company remains open to a collaborative effort.

A statement from the ministry indicated that BC Timber Sales did conduct road and bridge maintenance along 34km of the road.

“Given the exceptional rainfall events, the ministry has provided approximately $750,000, including BC Timber Sales funding, to contribute towards repairs in addition to professional services during ongoing planning and repair efforts,” it said.

“Discussions continue on permanent solutions for fully restored access and the cost-share breakdown,” the ministry added.

One contract just awarded by BC Timber Sales to Progressive Ventures of Terrace is for $284,800 and is to realign one portion of the road involving rock blasting and trucking excavated material to a more stable dump site, the ministry said.

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