British Columbia is lifting restrictions on gasoline purchases put into place after last month’s heavy rainstorms damaged critical infrastructure and choked off fuel supplies.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth made the announcement on Monday, while also extending a provincial state of emergency by two weeks, until Dec. 28, to maintain public-safety measures on B.C.’s vulnerable highways.
“While we are making significant progress in our early recovery, there’s still so much work to do to reopen our highways and get people back in our homes,” Mr. Farnworth told a news conference.
“I know the highway closures and restrictions are challenging, but they are necessary to maintain a steady flow of goods across the province.”
The 30-litre limit for non-essential vehicles will expire on Tuesday, three-and-a-half weeks after it was introduced. The limit applied to the Lower Mainland, the Sea-to-Sky region, the Sunshine Coast, the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island.
The Trans Mountain pipeline, which supplies about 90 per cent of the fuel needed in the Lower Mainland, was shut down in mid-November as a precaution after heavy rains damaged major highways and caused deadly mudslides. It restarted on Dec. 6 at reduced pressure, and is expected to deliver more than 75 per cent of normal volumes over the month of December, the company said in an e-mail on Monday.
In a statement, Trans Mountain said the pipeline “remained safely in a static condition” throughout the shutdown period and there was no indication of any product release or serious damage to the pipe. Work continues to inspect additional lines, armour riverbanks and add ground cover or relocate sections of the pipeline, the statement said.
Mr. Farnworth said the province will continue receiving additional fuel by rail and by barge for the time being.
Restrictions on non-essential travel along sections of Highway 3 and Highway 99 remain in place. However, the Coquihalla Highway – damaged in 20 places over 130 kilometres – could potentially reopen for commercial travel weeks earlier than anticipated as a result of repairs that have sped up the movement of construction equipment, and workers, along the corridor.
Transportation Minister Rob Fleming had said the initial target to complete temporary repairs and reopen the highway was the end of January. That was moved up to early January, and may now be sooner than that, depending on weather. A full update on the Coquihalla is expected on Wednesday.
“The Coquihalla is alive with construction activity every waking hour,” Mr. Fleming said. “We have that to thank about 300 people, who are now working with 200 pieces of heavy equipment along that corridor.”
Should the Coquihalla reopen to commercial traffic, Highway 3 could reopen to the general public, finally allowing for travel between the Lower Mainland and B.C.’s Interior. Mr. Fleming said Monday that it was too soon to know if it might reopen in time for holiday travel.
As of last week, about $12-million had been distributed to evacuees through several channels, including payments of $2,000 through a partnership between the province and the Canadian Red Cross, Mr. Farnworth said.
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