British Columbia has extended its state of emergency to support flood recovery efforts as well as orders limiting fuel purchases for non-essential vehicles and restricting travel along hard-hit sections of the province’s compromised highways.
In announcing the extensions on Monday, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the “significant weather” continues to pose challenges for the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which normally brings in 85 per cent of the fuel that is required in B.C. for refining and has been offline since Nov. 14.
“The fuel conservation measures are working and I want to thank British Columbians for their patience – but we need to stay the course for another two weeks until we have the Trans Mountain Pipeline back online,” Mr. Farnworth said. “We need to ensure our supply chains, and emergency services, have the fuel that they need to function.”
The order restricting fuel purchases to 30 litres per visit to a gas station applies to the Lower Mainland, the Sea-to-Sky region, the Sunshine Coast, the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island. That order, along with the state of emergency that gives the province power to implement it, has been extended until at least Dec. 14.
The province is also extending an order prohibiting non-essential travel on parts of Highways 3, 7 and 99. Those who flout the rules could face fines of up to $2,000.
B.C. is currently in between the second and third of a series of forecasted storms. Efforts to clean up and rebuild following the heavy flooding of two weeks ago, which damaged critical infrastructure and affected every major highway, have taken place alongside overnight efforts involving hundreds of workers and volunteers to sandbag and prepare for more inclement weather. Meanwhile, government has had to find alternate ways to ensure the movement of essential goods such as fuel.
Energy Minister Bruce Ralston said government staff have been working with their federal counterparts at Transport Canada and Natural Resources Canada as well as fuel suppliers, retailers and the Canadian Fuels Association to ensure B.C. has a sufficient fuel supply.
“Fuel has made its way into the Lower Mainland from Alberta through the railways,” Mr. Ralston said Monday. “We also know that some barges have arrived to offload fuel from the U.S. This has provided us with a supply of fuel to compensate for the product that would usually come from the Trans Mountain Pipeline while the company works toward restarting the line.”
CP Rail has said 30 locations were damaged following the rainstorm, but resumed some operations last week.
However, some producers are still struggling with the transportation challenges of damaged infrastructure. The forestry company West Fraser has announced it is temporarily shutting down two pulp mills, with 220 workers laid off, according to the Williams Lake Tribune. The company said it is unable to ship product and has run out of accessible storage.
In Abbotsford, Mayor Henry Braun said Monday that water from the Nooksack River that breached a dike in Sumas, Wash., and was expected to flood into his city Sunday ended up taking a day longer than predicted by U.S. officials. As well, the Fraser River dropped low enough that Abbotsford could reopen the floodgates at its Barrowtown Pump Station after a brief closing, which allowed water from the Sumas River to drain.
“Those two things in combination make me very comfortable, and I feel much better today than I did yesterday at this point on the second [weather] event,” the mayor told a news conference. “The third one is still an unknown. Everything is holding, so I think we’re in good shape.”
The water had not reached the critically affected Sumas Prairie lake bottom as of Monday afternoon, but did reach about two feet in Abbotsford’s Huntingdon Village, along the U.S. border, where an evacuation order remains in place.
Armel Castellan, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said Monday that southern B.C. was on a “24-hour break” from rain and that the next system is again an atmospheric river, coming in from near the Philippines, travelling 8,000 to 9,000 kilometres over the past few days.
“It will deliver a relatively strong punch, similar to what we saw this weekend,” he said. “We’re talking about 50 to 100 milimetres on the south coast for the Lower Mainland, Sunshine Coast, Howe Sound and the Fraser Valley.”
Mr. Castellan added that the region is dealing not only with rain, but also snow melt and a successive storm event.
“So even if the third storm is not as bad as it could have been in the modelling leading up to today, it will be problematic because they are coming so close, back to back, with the runoff and the saturated soil.”
B.C.’s River Forecast Centre upgraded flood alerts for all of Vancouver Island and a large stretch of the south coast, from Vancouver to Bella Coola, on Monday morning.
In the Cowichan District, which has been in a local state of emergency since mid-November, 147 properties have been assessed for damage from floods in the past two weeks. A flood centre run by the regional district with the Cowichan Tribes, Halalt First Nation, and Penelakut Tribe served 200 people in the past four days. With additional heavy rains in the forecast, a team of 30 Canadian Forces members was deployed on the weekend to the most affected communities of the region to support sandbagging and preparedness.
With up to 100 millimetres of rain forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday in Howe Sound, the Squamish Nation had emergency crews sandbagging vulnerable areas to protect against rising levels of the Cheakamus River. The nation was securing accommodation and preparing Totem Hall in Squamish as a reception centre in case residents need to evacuate.
Meanwhile, close to 10 per cent of blueberry fields in B.C. were affected by the floods, and some farmers aren’t sure whether they will be able to invest the time and money to start over.
The BC Blueberry Council estimates that at least 2,500 acres of blueberries have been affected, including about 1,000 acres that remain underwater in the Sumas Prairie. Statistics Canada reports that the total acreage of blueberry production in the province is about 27,000 acres.
The blueberry council added that some portions of the Matsqui Flats area, and other areas near the Fraser River, were also flooded and are likely to experience varying degrees of damage or loss.
Blueberry bushes die when submerged for long periods. Harry Sidhu, a blueberry farmer in the Sumas Prairie, said it’s likely that severely affected growers will need to pull their bushes and replant, at a high cost.
“Blueberries are a perennial plant and it takes years for a sizable crop yield, so this may be a significant loss of income for many years,” Mr. Sidhu said in a statement.
Mr. Braun said last week that his heart ached for the farmers who told him through tears that they can’t afford to start over.
“Some of those farmers, they’ve told me that they don’t know if they’re going to [replant], they don’t know if they financially can do that,” he said.
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