DRESSED IN THEIR ORANGE and fluorescent vests, they came first with their surveying equipment, distance measuring wheels and magnetic pipeline locators.
Then they brought their flags and their yellow, orange and pink painted stakes, pounding them into the ground above the existing pipeline and along the edges of their new right of way. When the cows and horses knocked them over, they came back and put them in again, thousands of them.
Next came the archaeologists, digging their rows of holes as if they were planting vegetables, only bigger. Hydro or one of the power line contractors might show up and want to move a pole, or a fencing crew would come to string new fencing along the pipeline route to keep out livestock, or a different crew would move someone’s shed.
Sometimes, land owners would get a call from a contractor or Trans Mountain representative letting them know there’d be a crew in orange vests nosing around their property the next day or maybe the day after that.
The rule of thumb was 24 or 48 hours’ notice as a courtesy to the resident. Sometimes, the crew would show up when they said they would, sometimes the following week, sometimes not at all. And, sometimes, they’d arrive with no notice — we’d wake up and find people in vests strolling around outside, or see a big piece of equipment and several pickup trucks in the front field.
There have been small mysteries, such as why a Hydro pole had to be pulled out even though it was nowhere near the right of way, and a new one put in four feet away.
There are so many contractors involved in this pipeline expansion, doing different things, that it’s almost impossible for them to stay co-ordinated — one often doesn’t know what the other is doing, and that’s understandable.
During the past two years, the number of white pickup trucks with 12-ft. antennas and Alberta plates (not that there’s anything wrong with being from Alberta) has increased dramatically up and down Westsyde Road.
Since last fall and especially this spring, there have been more and more water trucks, road sweepers, Hydro trucks, hydro vac trucks, dump trucks, first aid trucks, trucks loaded down with heavy equipment or hauling big pipes, and those white F-350s and Ram 3500s, going back and forth at a steady pace.
A few days ago, they came to rip out fences and walk around some more with their clip boards. And now, the giant earth movers, back hoes and dozers are here for the violent, ugly job of ripping up front yards and back yards and farm land to prepare for the pipe installers.
As I write this, I’m accompanied by the noise of the big machinery, their fitful beeping and the rattling of our house. My computer screen trembles. Chainsaws whine as one crew bucks up the seven mature pine and fir trees felled on a neighbour’s property because they were in the way. A dozer rumbles back and forth outside my office window while a massive back hoe scrapes away nearby.
Black Pines looks as though a freeway or aircraft runway has been carved right through the middle of it. Or maybe a tsunami, or Godzilla has been on a rampage. There are pipes and trucks and equipment and porta potties and signs everywhere.
One can’t help admire the sheer power of this operation but there’s also a certain feeling of being violated, the same feeling you get if your house is broken into, only many times stronger.
This is what life is like for those living in the path of the Trans Mountain expansion. For folks in town or otherwise distanced from the construction, the pipeline is something you read about or watch on the news.
For those whose land sits on the route, the project has been an everyday up-close reality for a long time. Patience has been not just a virtue, but a necessity. It’s hard not to get mad at Trans Mountain but there’s no point in getting mad at the crews.
None of what’s happening is the workers’ doing; they’re just here to make a living, not to make anyone’s life miserable, though I admit to occasional bouts of misdirected frustration. I’m guessing they put up with a lot of guff from land owners who don’t enjoy having strangers coming and going freely on their property.
And one has to acknowledge that Trans Mountain has tried hard to be considerate. It takes environmental and wildlife responsibilities seriously, avoiding nesting areas and trying to protect migration routes and such, does what it can to lessen the inconvenience and cost to farmers, and listens to residents’ complaints about how things are being handled.
But it’s not easy for anyone. Now that the big work is underway, even the courtesy phone calls are out the window.
There will be several more months of this, and when the pipeline installers are finally done, the ground must be replaced in layers in the reverse order in which they were removed — underlying silt and rock first, then the clay, then the topsoil. Fences must be replaced, ruined driveways restored, and the bald land that’s left has to be reseeded and nurtured. It will take years to get back to relative normal.
All the goodwill in the world won’t make anyone sorry to see the end of this massively disruptive experience.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.