Canada

Assiniboia, Sask. residents call for windmill project postponement during COVID-19 pandemic

A 50-turbine windmill project outside of Assiniboia, Sask., is generating concerns for residents amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Potentia Renewables Inc.’s Golden South Wind Energy Facility broke ground in August 2019. But due to the threat of coronavirus transmission, dozens want the project postponed.

“If it’s delayed for a couple of months, yes, it’s going to hurt someone financially, but it doesn’t hurt anybody’s health or risk anybody’s life,” said Dwayne Woolhouse, an organic farmer near Assiniboia.

READ MORE: Construction begins on wind energy facility near Assiniboia, Sask.

Woolhouse, who lives five miles from one of the windmill sites, said his biggest concern is out-of-province and out-of-area workers bringing the virus into the community.

Twenty-five workers are currently stationed in the town. Borea Construction, the contractor for the project, said that will increase to 90 workers by the end of April.

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In July, 145 workers will be on-site. The company said that is the most employees it will have working in the area at one time.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan limits gatherings to 10 people, moves to limit more businesses

According to Assiniboia mayor Bob Himbeault, a large percentage of those workers are from Ontario and Quebec, hotspots for COVID-19.

“Even workers from in province shouldn’t be coming in,” Woolhouse said. “This is not an essential service. If this windmill project doesn’t start up, we’re not out of power.”

“I’m trying to put pressure on people to shut it down for now.”

Many Assiniboia residents, including Woolhouse, are calling on the Saskatchewan government to postpone the project until the pandemic clears.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan Construction Association encourages governments to ‘build on’

Under the current provincial state of emergency, construction projects are considered an allowable business.

Norm Nordgulen, reeve of the Rural Municipality of Lake of the Rivers, said he is working closely with the government to postpone the project. He said it’s “in the government’s hands” to deem construction a non-allowable business.

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Derek Cloutier and his partner are expecting twins at the beginning of May. He said he isn’t worried about his health, but instead contracting the virus and transmitting it to his family.

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“If I manage to contract it at work somehow and bring it home, you know, we’ve got enough worry there. Now, this is just increasing the risk for that scenario,” Cloutier said.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan farmers facing financial hardship due to coronavirus pandemic: APAS

“It seems like we’re asking for [COVID-19] to be a problem, especially in a place right now where it’s not a problem.”

Borea Construction is on its fourth revision of its COVID-19 response plan. The plan lays out safety protocol for each of its construction sites to follow during the pandemic.

In a statement to Global News, the contractor said, “In addition to enhanced preventive measures on job sites, we have limited interprovincial travel by asking all our workers to remain in the city where they are posted until further notice.

“We are working in close collaboration with our client, Potentia Renewables, as well as the municipality on a daily basis to assess the situation and adjust our approach accordingly.”

READ MORE: Farmers frustrated with federal decision to move forward with carbon tax increase amid pandemic

Protocol includes maintaining a two-metre distance between workers when possible. If that’s not possible, the task will either be delayed or workers will wear proper personal protective equipment, Borea Construction said.

Rules for sanitization, meal breaks and preventative checklists are all included in the response plan.

An on-site nurse will check temperatures for all employees every shift.

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Cloutier, however, said these protocols don’t take prevention far enough.

“We have no way of knowing if [workers] are not carrying [the novel coronavirus] when they come here,” Cloutier said. “A large portion of the people are asymptomatic in the first place and they’re still contagious.”

“At the end of the day nobody can control what these workers are doing after hours.”

Workers are staying in motels and houses rented out by the contractor, according to the mayor.

Himbeault said he’s fielding a few personal calls from residents, but most complaints are going to the town office.

READ MORE: Farmers frustrated with federal decision to move forward with carbon tax increase amid pandemic

“Certainly, I can understand why some of the public would be concerned with this big project,” Himbeault said.

“I would remind people that construction projects are under the power of the province and it’s declared them an essential service, so really, as a municipality, we have no control over this.”

Himbeault said he’s been in close contact with Borea Construction every day. He is confident the measures in place will keep his community safe.

“If we follow all of the public health guidelines and isolate ourselves, stay as home as much as we can, and keep our distance, really there is no reason why we would have contact with any of these workers,” Himbeault said.

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In an email from the Saskatchewan government, it said it is aware of the concerns from Assiniboia residents.

“To ensure compliance with all public health orders imposed to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Minister of Health has requested that public health officials investigate the project site to ensure the proper measures are being taken to reduce any risk of COVID-19 community transmission. This would include determining whether a risk is present from worker dwellings or travel through the surrounding area,” the province said.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers across Canada are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. In Saskatchewan, international travellers are already required to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to the province.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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