County PIO: New Arrivals Will Still Quarantine for 14 Days
This story has been updated. The updated story can be found at https://www.glasgowcourier.com/story/2020/04/01/news/kxl-to-go-forward-amid-pandemic/8663.html.
TC Energy has confirmed their plans to move forward with construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in Phillips and Valley Counties during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the coming weeks, the planned construction project will bring in 100 workers from all over the country, all of whom will be living in hotels and recreational vehicles while they establish sites and stage areas for the massive infrastructure project set to begin next year.
As of March 28, at 12:01 a.m., the county has ordered all new arrivals in Valley County to self-quarantine for 14 days. The order will also apply to pipeline workers who have arrived starting March 26 at 12:01 a.m. and to all workers who will arrive moving forward, up until the order expires. It was unclear at press time how that quarantine will affect the pipeline's construction in general.
In a "COVID-19 contingency plan" sent after requests from the Courier, the company that will be constructing the pipeline regionally, Barnard Pipeline, Inc., discussed the procedures the company will be following to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks while continuing with the infrastructure project.
It further stated that the company should, "Be prepared for the possibility of local government issuing a shelter-in-place order," and, "Any new developments or orders issued by local governments will be distributed to the project team as they become available."
County public information officer Todd Young said that pipeline workers are required to follow all local orders and new arrivals will need to quarantine in their lodgings for the 14-day period. He did comment that many of the workers he was aware of had arrived before the 48-hour retrograde timeframe in the quarantine order. According to those with direct access to the information, pipeline workers began arriving this week with many checking into their accommodations Tuesday and Wednesday and while more checked in between Thursday and Friday. Others are still expected to check in in the coming days as project work is expected to begin this weekend.
Requests for information from the State Disaster and Emergency Services for information regarding the project went unanswered after regional DES Field Officer Jeff Gates expressed his concerns in a teleconference meeting with the Valley County Commissioners and other area leaders on March 19. Gates specifically expressed concerns about the crew sizes and mass transportation that would be used to bring workers to and from the construction sites.
In response to a series of questions from the Courier, TC Energy replied with an email stating, "As an organization, we have taken several steps to ensure the safety of our employees, contractors and community partners. Safety is our number one value, and our first concern is for all the employees, families and communities who may be affected by this situation."
The email went on to say that the company had closed municipal offices and was adhering to "social distancing" guidelines. In response to questions about the specific sites in Valley and Phillips counties, TC Energy said, "In regards to yesterday's discussion, we have outlined measures specific to the COVID-19 including pre-screening and on site hygiene protocols. We will continue to monitor the situation and update our plans as appropriate if the situation changes."
After a week of inquiring with everyone from DES to TC Energy and the Valley County Commissioners, TC Energy sent a plan of action for health and safety at their sites. That plan had, at that time, been under review by County Health Officials. Those officials did make further recommendations on the plan to TC Energy, but what those changes were, or an updated plan had not yet been made available to the Courier.
Barnard Pipeline, Inc. based in Bozeman, Mont., who will be constructing the pipeline in the region, produced the plan. It establishes policies and procedures to prevent the spread of the disease that are not unlike the Center for Disease Control guidelines. Namely, screening workers traveling to the site to determine if they are high risk and preventing their access to the project. Social distancing, group limits of less than 10 people and forbidding communal meals are also in the guidance. (The contingency plan provided to the Courier is attached.)
Leaving and returning to the sites were also addressed in the plan but are now controlled under the county's quarantine health order.
The construction of the pipeline is deemed critical infrastructure by the US Department of Homeland Security and therefore is allowed to continue as planned provided measures are implemented and followed for safety under current orders.
The Keystone XL pipeline project has been a controversial infrastructure project for more than a decade. After ascending to office in 2008, President Barack Obama denied the project a permit to cross the border with Canada, effectively stalling the project until 2017 when President Trump took office and issued the required permits.
Since Trump's approval though the project has continued to face opposition by some groups in Northeast Montana and across the country. Specifically, the Fort Peck Tribes and environmentalist groups have fought the construction through public assembly and legal action. Lawsuits have hampered the projects progress to include injunctions that halted initial preparations for construction in 2017. Left unresolved until late 2019, TC Energy was forced to hold off on construction until presently in the Spring of 2020.
You can view the full Barnard Pipeline plan below.