A proposal to build a temporary worker camp in Sparwood has been met with a resounding ‘no’ from the community.
On June 4, the District of Sparwood hosted a public hearing for a temporary use permit application for 8000 Highway 43, where a 114-bed lodge is proposed.
The camp will provide accommodation for 150-200 workers over 24-36 months and the proponents have requested a three-year permit.
LOOK BACK: Temporary housing proposed in Sparwood
Landowners Rick and Cindy Pater are working with Edmonton-based company, GNS Industrial Trailer Services, to deliver the project on behalf of an undisclosed client, and say it will alleviate a “temporary, acute shortage of rentals” in Sparwood, which has a low vacancy rate of 1.3 per cent.
However, there is strong community opposition to the camp. Of the 120-140 people who attended the June 4 public hearing, 24 voiced their concerns and all were opposed to the project.
The concerns included increased traffic and pressure on emergency services, the threat of undesirables moving to Sparwood, the challenges of enforcing a dry camp, and the camp’s potential to impact property values, wildlife, hotels and other businesses.
Prior to the public input period, GNS was given 10 minutes to present.
“We’ve been doing this for a very long time and we know how to do it right,” said General Manager Josh Skoreyko, highlighting the company’s 23 years of experience providing modular equipment to a variety of projects throughout Canada.
He hoped to reassure the community and explain the benefits of the project, which he said included improving Sparwood’s tax base, and creating employment and business opportunities.
“There’s a variety of third party businesses that are required to keep the operation running smoothly,” he said.
“That will provide additional income for local businesses, which we would use to service the property, as well as create opportunities for other local businesses to provide services and supplies as required.”
“We’re looking to encourage economic growth by having people that are coming to complete these projects stay and spend their money in Sparwood, versus elsewhere.”
GNS believes 8000 Highway 43 is the perfect location for the camp because of its size and ease of access. Skoreyko said the camp will be set back so that it’s not visible from the highway.
If the temporary use permit application is successful, GNS estimates site development will take four weeks and assembly of the lodge four to six weeks.
The landowners are proposing to put 30 modular homes on the site after the camp closes, however, there is currently no application before the District.
Skoreyko stressed that it will be a dry camp with a secure entrance and most beds will be taken by the anchor tenant, with some additional beds for bookings over 30 days.
He said GNS doesn’t want to compete with local hotel operators. “We’re not a hotel, we’re not open to tourists. By taking this approach, it allows us to keep the camp secure,” he said.
The lodge will include kitchen and recreation facilities, and guests will be provided with three meals a day.
GNS will hire ESS Support Services Worldwide to provide catering and housekeeping at the camp, which will create 15 jobs.
ESS’ Director of Business Development BC, Yukon and NWT, Carlos Echaiz-McGrath, also attended the public hearing, emphasizing that the company will employ as many locals as possible.
However, their assurances did little to ease residents’ concerns and there was an air of hostility as the public hearing was opened to the floor.
One resident said he has worked in the construction industry for 25 years and stayed in camps across Canada, and the U.S.
“I’ve never seen any camp or anybody staying in a camp that has been any benefit to the town that they’re staying in,” he said.
A neighbouring property owner also expressed his concern.
“Currently we’re in the process of considering listing our home for sale. I think if this proposed camp were to go through, it would cause harm to our property value,” he said.
Other residents highlighted the need for long-term, affordable housing in Sparwood.
“This temporary camp and all the negative consequences associated with temporary camps in general will not bring residents, and will repel tourists,” said one woman.
“It will cause our town to shrink instead of grow. If someone wants to profit off the influx of workers needed at the mines they can build permanent housing that can help address, in the long run, the rental shortage that has been a reality in this town for at least the last decade.”
A Ponderosa Drive resident told council it was unlikely any of the temporary workers would remain Sparwood after their contract finished.
She rents a room to temporary workers and students, and recalled a conversation with a longer-term tenant.
“He told me from the day that he lived with me he would never ‘in an effin’ million years’ live in Sparwood or buy a home here, but he was happy to come here and make money,” she said.
“Had a young wife, had a baby; he arrived with all his groceries. When he was done at the end of this two weeks, he would leave and he would go back to his home in Alberta, and he would spend his money in Alberta.
“That’s the kind of workers that we’re talking about here, folks. They were all nice guys… but I can tell you this, none of them bought a home in Sparwood and they spent very little money while they were here.”
The proponents of rental properties and housing developments also addressed the public hearing.
A representative from Kootenay Villa said the company had been a good corporate citizen for over 25 years and over that time had experienced “few stable times and many bad times”.
“… throughout these periods we’ve struck around,” he said.
“We’re not afraid of or opposed to competition, we simply ask that the playing field be level. As leaders of the community, please ask yourselves, what does a trailer camp bring to the community and for how long?”
Doug Wilde from the Whiskey Jack ownership group was also concerned about the camp’s potential to impact the housing development.
“It just scares me a little bit that we’ve invested some money and they’re right across from the intersection there. We’re trying to provide some permanent, lasting, long-term housing,” he said.
Wilde admitted the Whiskey Jack project has come up against “lots of obstacles and road blocks” over the years, but said a plan is now in place to move the project forward.
“We’re excited to move that forward and we just don’t want to see any other road blocks that would slow that project down,” he concluded.
After the public input period, GNS was given a chance to respond. Skoreyko said he understood residents’ concerns about transient workers and emphasized that it would be the client – not GNS – bringing the workforce to build mining infrastructure in the area.
“They have asked us to provide a safe place for workers to stay for the duration of the project,” he said. “I think it’s key to remember these are all people… they have families; they’re engineers, electricians, plumbers.”
Skoreyko went onto assure residents that GNS will pay for all infrastructure costs associated with the camp, as well as addressing any road safety issues flagged by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
GNS Sales Manager Adam Mandryk argued that not building the camp would only increase pressure on the housing market.
“Regardless if we build our facility, these people are coming and these people have work in the area, and they’re going to be staying somewhere,” he said. “They’re going to be staying in the very limited rentals, they’re going to be staying all over town and commuting in, which would create further congestion on the highway.
“What our client is concerned about is making sure that they’re as close to the job site as possible, so that their people are safe.”
Mandryk responded to questions about the camp expanding to 220 beds or the temporary use permit being extended for a further three years.
“Our plan was never to do that but if the need arose and council, and town was in favour of it, obviously we would look at it if there was a need for it. However, our initial intention from the beginning was only the 114 beds to service the one potential client that approached us with the opportunity,” he said.
“We understand the need to grow the town and want people to put roots here… I can’t promise that any of these people are going to stay here but if they’re staying in a different town, if they’re not able to experience it, there’s no chance of them falling in love with your community.”
Mandryk encouraged residents to call other towns where GNS operates camps to discover for themselves how they are run.
Rick concluded by reiterating that if the camp does not go ahead, temporary workers will snap up all available rentals and will likely be prepared to pay a premium.
“This camp will alleviate a temporary acute shortage of rentals and I certainly ask you to take that into consideration,” he said.
Sparwood council will make a decision on the temporary use permit at the June 18 regular meeting, which be held in council chambers at 6 p.m.
GNS General Manager Josh Skoreyko has written an open letter to the residents of Sparwood, which has been published in the June 13 edition of The Free Press.
Dear residents of Sparwood,
Thank-you very much for taking the time at the recent public hearing to voice your concerns about the potential workforce accommodation lodge in Sparwood. We heard your concerns and fully agree with you. However, we believe that the issues you brought up during the meeting are not a function of the lodge, but rather a function of the growth of industry and the need for contract workers in the District of Sparwood. Therefore, the lodge in Sparwood mitigates the issues, and here is why.
1. Increased Traffic – Without a lodge to centrally house the workforce, the workers will be dispersed throughout your communities and will be travelling from various points of residence to work on your roads and highways. The lodge on the other hand will provide a common location for the workers. We have worked closely with BC Highways throughout the application process and submitted a Traffic Impact Assessment to understand what Highway or intersection upgrades may be required once the lodge is operational. Our development plan would abide by all the recommendations in the report.
2. Safety Concerns – our lodge will have a secure access gate manned 24 hours a day. This means that our workforce when at the lodge will be in a controlled facility that prohibits alcohol and drugs. Combined with well-defined Lodge rules we can truly say that any negative interaction with community and lodge residents will be minimized.
3. Community Support – GNS partners with the communities in which we operate. If granted the permit to operate, we will work closely with the town to promote opportunities for the workers to find permanent residence in your town. We will also hire local wherever we can and we will support community events.
4. Expansion – GNS has applied for a 114 bed lodge for three years. We would not seek an extension for the facility beyond three years unless the town sees value in the service we are providing, and we have proven ourselves as a good neighbour and partner.
We believe that our short term solution would benefit your long term plans by providing relief for the coming influx of workers while more permanent housing is being built. We take great pride in the work we perform and hope to be able to prove ourselves to you all.
Thank you again for your time.
Josh Skoreyko, GNS Industrial Trailer Services Ltd.