Wind farm construction project raises COVID-19 concerns

The proponents of a large wind energy project near Assiniboia, Sask., have moved to calm fears about an influx of temporary and out-of-province workers amid COVID-19.

Construction is resuming on the Golden South Wind project just outside the town. It broke ground last summer and when complete it is expected to provide 200 megawatts of wind power through 59 turbines. It is located on about 34,000 acres of leased agricultural land in the rural municipalities of Stonehenge and Lake of the Rivers.

Potentia Renewables and Borea Construction issued a public letter earlier this month after rumblings through the community about workers coming from hard-hit Quebec. The construction phase will employ about 220 people.

Chris Sinclair, reeve of the RM of Stonehenge, said he had received “a handful” of calls from concerned residents.

The RM is advising anyone with concerns to contact the health and environment ministries.

A spokesperson said the government is aware of the concerns in the community.

“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,” he said. “This would include determining whether a risk is present from worker dwellings or travel through the surrounding area.”

The government has deemed utility providers as critical, and construction is allowed under the province’s current measures.

Borea did not respond to a request for more information, but the letter said it has a pandemic response plan on its website.

The plan says any employee or contractor arriving in the community must complete a questionnaire assessing risk factor for infection, self-isolate for 14 days before going to the work site if they have been out of the country and stay home if they have any symptoms.

At the site, workers who have come from provinces other than Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba are advised to avoid all community contact for 14 days, moving straight from their accommodation to the site.

It’s unclear why workers from these three provinces are exempt from that condition.

“We will work with local businesses to ensure that essentials and meals can be delivered to (workers) during these 14 days,” the letter said.

“A nurse is posted on site and will take the temperature of every person entering the site to ensure that no one with a fever is inadvertently allowed on site.”

The plan also said if an out-of-town worker is advised to isolate or quarantine the companies will provide a space for that to occur so that travel isn’t required.

“Given the increase in the number of temporary workers in the area, we are attempting to maximize physical distancing while still retaining some of the economic benefit for the region,” said the letter. “To this end, Golden South and Borea are working together with local authorities and local businesses to arrange for daily deliveries of lunch and — potentially — other essentials to the work site to minimize the need for workers to interact with the community.”

Contact karen.briere@producer.com

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