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Flood disaster shakes British Columbia economy, sounds alarm bells for infrastructure

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Flood disaster shakes British Columbia economy, sounds alarm bells for infrastructure

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VICTORIA – British Columbia’s economic growth will face erosion from recent floods and landslides that have crippled transport links, but the resilience of government and industry to maintain chains of Open supply limits the damage, according to an economist.

Vital road, rail and port links were cut for weeks when a record-breaking series of rains last month flooded southern British Columbia, inundating highways and farms and forcing an estimated 15,000 people to evacuate their homes .

Ken Peacock, senior vice president and chief economist of the Business Council of BC, said he estimated the climate catastrophe would result in lost economic output for the province ranging from $ 250 million to $ 400 million.

“We kind of think of the direct impact of the highway closures, the railroad closures, the Trans Mountain pipeline shutdown, and then the impacts on retail, we kind of think of three tenths of a percentage point, ”he said. noted.

“It would slow growth for 2021.”

He said the economic impact estimate did not forecast repair and reconstruction costs, which the government said will be huge.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson recently said she would provide a clear picture of the province’s finances in her February budget.

Last month, she said British Columbia was heading for a strong economic recovery after a 3.4% drop in 2020, but uncertainties over the COVID-19 pandemic and the costs of flood damage remain.

Earlier this month, Robinson said the province’s Economic Forecast Council forecast economic growth in British Columbia of 5.3% in 2021 and 4.2% in 2022.

Peacock said the economic impact of the flooding would have been felt more if the province was not in a period of economic rebound.

“So three tenths of a percentage point doesn’t sound like much when you talk about four percent growth. But if we’re in our normal world of growing two to two and a half percent, then three tenths of a percent is a lot. more meaningful, ”he said.

The closure of highways and rail lines due to flooding and limited access to Vancouver’s port facilities has alerted government and industry to quickly fix infrastructure and keep supply chains running, even whether it involved moving goods on different highways or railroads, Peacock said. .

“One thing that has become very clear to government and policy makers is that this is not a warning but a very clear indicator of our dependence on certain infrastructure and links. transport, ”he said.

The four-lane Coquihalla Freeway, the main road transport route to and from Vancouver, reopened to commercial traffic on December 20 after flooding and landslides damaged 20 sections of the freeway, including seven bridges.

Officials at the Port of Vancouver, Canada’s largest, said rail service is running smoothly again following major disruptions from damaged rail tracks.

“While the reopening of the Coquihalla Highway will provide renewed access for the movement of goods by truck throughout the interior of British Columbia and into Alberta, the majority of volumes from all sectors moving to and from the port are shipped by rail, ”said Vancouver Fraser Port. Authority in a statement. “Currently, the two railways serving the port currently operate consistently between Vancouver and Kamloops.

James Thompson, vice president of western operations for Canadian National, said access to the port of Vancouver was cut from Nov. 14 to Dec. 4 due to 58 damaged sites in the Fraser Canyon region, from Ashcroft to Yale.

It took 400 employees and 110 pieces of equipment working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to repair the trails, the biggest job being a major facelift in the Fraser Canyon at Jackass Mountain, he said.

“We put in 282,000 meters of rock to backfill what was swept away by the landslide and the storm, and to put it in rough, easy-to-understand terms, that’s about 25,000 loads of 18-wheel ballast, rip-rap and other materials at that one location, ”Thompson said.

CN was effectively shut down from Kamloops to Vancouver, forcing the company to move some of its traffic to Prince Rupert, he said.

Thompson said the storm was a one-of-a-kind event.

But coming just months after wildfires in the same area that shut down rail service, it only served as a reminder of the power of weather in an era of climate change.

“We try to plan and build contingency and resilience into our network. But in the end, I can’t say it better than this: Railroading is an outdoor sport and Mother Nature sets the standards. rules, ”he said. .

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 26, 2021.

Local News News Today Flood disaster shakes British Columbia economy, sounds alarm bells for infrastructure

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