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B.C. restricting access to gas, prohibiting travel on certain routes amid supply chain disruptions

Drivers in southwestern B.C., Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast face new restrictions.

The provincial government is restricting access to gas for 10-11 days in some parts of B.C. and prohibiting travel on certain routes amid supply chain disruptions brought on by devastating floods.

Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s minister of public safety and solicitor general, said Friday access to gas will be prioritized for emergency and essential vehicles, granting them unrestricted access to gas using commercial card-lock stations.

Non-essential vehicles used by average British Columbian will be restricted to 30 litres of gas per visit in southwestern B.C. (from Metro Vancouver east to Hope), Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.

This comes as the province introduces two new orders under the Emergency Program Act.

The second order will prohibit non-essential travel along what Farnworth described as the “hardest hit” sections of Highway 99, Highway 3 and Highway 7.

Those routes can only be used for the commercial transport of goods and for moving essential supplies. 

Farnworth indicated that the 30-litre limit would be enforced through the honour system while the Trans Mountain pipeline remains out of service.

“They’re [British Columbians] going to do the right thing. Will there be people that want to … [not] abide by that? Yes, there will. But the overwhelming majority of people will do the right thing,” he said, adding those who don’t abide by the new restriction could face “a significant fine of about $2,000.”

“We can’t have a police officer at every gas station.”

Farnworth said the province has a “reduced but steady supply of gasoline” and that more would be coming in via truck and barge from Alberta, Washington state, Oregon and California.

In the meantime, he’s urging British Columbians to consider using transit, or else carpooling or walking to their destinations.

Bridgitte Anderson, president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, said her organization supports the government’s decision to restrict access to gas.

“However, we do recognize that it could impact many businesses. These are temporary measures and we urge people to remain calm and support frontline and essential workers, just like we did at the beginning of the pandemic,” she said in a statement.

“We need to work together to ensure necessary supplies are delivered and work can continue to reopen our major arteries that connect our province.”

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said there is currently no timeline or cost estimates for rebuilding the significant infrastructure that has been damaged.

“It’s going to be a lot. There’s no question about it,” he said, adding the highways will be rebuilt to higher standards.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said 959 farms remain on evacuation orders, while 164 farms remain on evacuation alert.

So far 20,500 hectares of farmland have been affected by flooding, while 15,000 of those hectares are designated as agricultural land reserve.

“We are seeing still some tensions between farmers trying to get into their farms … and the RCMP that are trying to protect people from dangerous situations on the roadways,” Popham said.

There are currently 14,000 British Columbians on evacuation order as of Friday — down from 17,000 a day earlier.

So far 4,700 residents have registered as evacuees at evacuation centres, while Farnworth said the majority of people typically stay with friends and family during such situations.

With the Trans Mountain pipeline out of service and the closure of highways linking Metro Vancouver and, by extension, Vancouver Island to the rest of Canada, supply chains face mass disruptions.

“Frankly, we are the economic corridor and engine for the rest of the country, and in some instances, the U.S. heartland. And so the port and airports are material around the economic prosperity of the country,” Greg D’Avignon, CEO of the Business Council of B.C., told BIV on Thursday.

He said the business council will be downgrading its economic outlook for 2021 after originally pegging GDP expansion at 5.8% back in August.

A revised outlook is due in about two weeks, whereby the council will “shave some of the gross [domestic product] from it as a result of the floods,” according to D’Avignon.

“But the impact of that disaster … brings to the fore the importance of having safe, secure and efficient infrastructure and energy, and the ability to move goods and supplies in and out of — not just Metro Vancouver — but throughout the province and the rest of the country.”

The situation is especially problematic for operators of shipping vessels handling bulk cargo (i.e. grain, coal and potash), as these ships have little choice but to try to wait out the rail outages for their cargo to arrive at Port of Vancouver.

There are 65 vessels in the port as of Friday – 25 at berth and 40 at anchorage awaiting a berth opening. Of those, there are 17 grain-carrier vessels (five at berths and 17 at anchorage) waiting to bring Canadian products to markets in Asia.

For these vessels, the options are to wait and to wait some more, Trevor Heaver, professor emeritus at UBC’s Sauder School of Business and past president of the International Association of Maritime Economists, told BIV on Thursday.

“For the bulk trades, it is basically no options available,” Heaver said.

“While there is always the exception – in the past, when lumber was a more prominent cargo, you might load some here and then top off in Washington state – the dominant trades now like coal, grain and fertilizers all have companies who chartered specific ships to carry specific cargoes from specific terminals.

Meanwhile, grocers are evaluating how they will keep shelves stocked as some British Columbians have taken to stockpiling amid supply chain disruptions.

Sobeys Inc. spokesman Paul Wyke told BIV in an email Thursday that his company was "exploring all avenues" to get product to our stores as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Sobeys is "working diligently with our suppliers, and our transport network, to ensure goods are available to customers at our Safeway, Thrifty Foods and FreshCo stores across B.C.," he said.

And Save-On-Foods Ltd. Partnership president Darrell Jones said earlier in the week that if his company needed to use helicopters to move containers to Save-On-Foods parking lots at stores that are cut off from road links, he would do it.

The company may also shift needed products to B.C. from Alberta.

With files from Nelson Bennett, Chuck Chiang, Glen Korstrom

torton@biv.com

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