Pipeliners forged lasting friendships across the Prairies
By David Coll
“Our best work is buried in the ground.”
That’s a phrase you’re likely to hear from Enbridge construction manager Allen Sawatzky — if the topic is the quality and workmanship of the recently completed Line 3 replacement pipeline (L3RP).
But Sawatzky is equally passionate about the legacy the company is leaving above the ground in communities spanning almost 1,100 kilometres from Hardisty, Alta. to the Manitoba-U.S. border near Gretna, Man.
“Enbridge took the approach that we are guests on the landowners’ property in the communities we called home during four seasons of pipeline construction,” Sawatzky says. “We worked hard to ensure this mindset was well-communicated and implemented among our entire workforce, whether they were on the job or after hours in the community.”
With an armada of yellow iron (heavy equipment) moving along the highways and backroads, and crews of 800 to 1,000 workers for roughly every 100 km of sparsely populated right-of-way during peak construction, some landowners expressed concern at the outset of the project about safety and potential risk of fire.
Such concerns are anticipated and addressed in any project Enbridge or its contractors undertake as components of a comprehensive construction safety strategy, Sawatzky says.
For the L3RP, this included equipping every truck and piece of heavy equipment with a fire extinguisher, water cans and a Pulaski (an axe-like tool for wildland firefighting than can dig and chop wood).
Going above and beyond
Each construction “spread” had three or four water trucks ready to be deployed as necessary. Every crew had several first-aid trained and equipped personnel, and medics were positioned within a 20-minute response time all along the right-of-way.
“These emergency response and preparedness measures aren’t in place just for pipeline incidents,” Sawatzky says. “They’re for any safety issue that might arise. During the Line 3 project, our people went the extra mile by helping out community members off the right-of-way on several occasions.”
Urgent support provided by Enbridge crews included equipment to extinguish grass, baler and wildland fires, assisting at the scene of vehicle incidents, helping motorists change flat tires, freeing farm equipment mired in the mud and, in one instance, even extricating a truck stuck in a snow bank on the railroad tracks at 6 a.m. in downtown Moosomin, Sask.
“The level of response we experienced from Enbridge in dealing with a local emergency situation was absolutely above and beyond,” says Tyler Lawrason, chief administrative officer of the sprawling M.D. of Provost in east-central Alberta. He’s referring to an August 2017 wildfire that Enbridge contractor O.J. Pipelines Canada helped the local fire department contain.
In a letter to Enbridge expressing his appreciation, Lawrason wrote: “Wildland fires in these conditions can be dangerous and unpredictable, and it’s nice to know our industry partners are ready and willing to drop work like they did and help out our first responders and my staff. Last evening’s events were an absolute credit to your contractor and your company.”
“It’s nice to know our industry partners are ready and willing to drop work like they did and help out our first responders.”
—Tyler Lawrason, CAO, Provost, Alta.
With such a strong presence in the field during construction season, it was inevitable that Line 3 crew members were often among the first on the scene of an incident.
Such was the case on a Wednesday morning in December 2017 near Craik, Sask. Shaun Christenson, an assistant welding inspector with Resdin Industries Ltd., was heading west on a gravel road toward the pipeline right-of-way to check on one of the crews in the area.
“I came over the hill and saw a [Super B] gravel truck, heading east, overturned in the ditch,” he recalls. “A man, apparently the driver, was walking in circles in the field. You could tell the accident had just happened.
“I put my four-ways on, pulled over, and ran out to get him. He was obviously in shock, bleeding everywhere. The skin on the right side of his face was peeled back, from two inches above to two inches below his ear.”
Christenson was able to calm him down and call 9-1-1 as well as his designated project emergency contacts.
He then dashed to his truck to grab his first-aid kit, bandaged the man with gauze and made a pillow for him to rest with some spare jackets and sweaters until the local fire department arrived on-site and took charge. Travis Aramenko, a project medic from Haztech, was also on the scene in less than eight minutes, providing a trauma assessment and monitoring the patient until the STARS air ambulance arrived.
The injured man was transported to Regina General Hospital, where he was treated and later released.
“It was fortunate to come upon him so soon after the accident along that deserted gravel road,” Christenson says. “Who knows how long he’d have been out there or where he’d have got to wandering in that field without help?”
Local lookouts and volunteer firefighters
To manage a heavier workload, Enbridge brought on additional land agents during project construction. Given their training and the nature of the role, they are vigilant observers of their surroundings and the local landscape, spending a good part of their days visiting with farmers and landowners and logging countless kilometres traversing the backroads and highways.
Their increased presence proved beneficial to the community during the busy construction seasons.
On a windy afternoon in late October 2018, Troy Seritt, an Enbridge contract land agent with Evolve Surface Strategies Inc., was engaged in planting stakes along the pipeline right-of-way to mark locations where topsoil wouldn’t initially be stripped, allowing farmers continued access to their fields. As he drove along Highway 48 some 80 km southeast of Regina, a curl of dark smoke to the south caught his attention.
“I thought it was a piece of equipment on the right-of-way,” he says, “but as soon as I drove up over the hill, I saw a house engulfed in flames and throwing sparks high into the air.”
The land agent was one of the first to arrive on the scene. The landowners, Delbert and Lisa Nostadt, were already there and with their bungalow and attached garage clearly beyond saving, a frantic battle was just beginning to save nearby corrals, farm equipment, sileage and hundreds of hay bales.
Although all their livestock were out to pasture, winds estimated at 70 km/h threatened to spread the blaze quickly to the yard and surrounding fields.
Seritt immediately reached for his cellphone to call Enbridge assistant construction manager Denny Hay and the Banister foreman. “Without hesitation, they told me, ‘Whatever the landowner needs, let us know and we’ll send it over right away.’”
Pipeline crew members and equipment began arriving in force in what became an all-hands-on-deck effort involving the Montmartre, Odessa and Francis fire departments, some of the Nostadts’ neighbours and other community members.
A utility crew arrived with pumps, hoses and shovels. Local fire departments’ pumping capacity was supplemented by two Banister trucks, including a large tri-axle unit that proved invaluable in keeping up a steady supply of water to battle the blaze. As afternoon turned to evening, two diesel light packs ensured workers could battle the fire safely into the night.
“It was a real coming together of pipeliners and community,” Seritt says. “Everybody showed up to help as would be expected, but I think there was a real appreciation that the Enbridge project folks responded the way we did — that we didn’t just ignore the scene and keep on with our own work.”
“They were a big help to us, for sure,” Delbert Nostadt says. “Without the pipeliners, it could have been a lot worse. They came back the next day and said if you need any more equipment, we’ll get it here fast.”
He borrowed a trackhoe and used it to begin a difficult cleanup in the aftermath of the fire, which took more than 12 hours to extinguish and is believed to have been caused by an electrical short.
A promising note
With the tragic loss of their home and its contents, about 400 bales of hay and nearly 400 tons of sileage, the Nostadts were left with little more than the clothes on their backs, Delbert says.
While their personal possessions can never be replaced, thankfully the Nostadts were insured. With the support of friends and neighbours, who helped them in various ways including a community fundraising event, they were able to rebuild their home and mixed farming operation.
And so, this story ends on a promising note.
“We moved into the new house on October 30 last year, one year to the day of the fire,” Delbert says. “Someone asked me, ‘Is that a good thing?’ and I said, ‘I guess we’ll find out.’”
As the quotation often attributed to author C.S. Lewis says: “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”
Surely that applies to a number of small acts of kindness during the Enbridge L3R project, including caring for and ensuring the adoption of a homeless kitten found seeking shelter in some construction equipment; arranging for Scouts to pick up and earn the proceeds from recycling cans and bottles at a construction field office; and even transporting and setting up lighting equipment to allow the local high school football team to play at night.
“From the very first kickoff construction meetings to the end of the project, Enbridge stressed that our off-right-of-way performance, our conduct in the community, was as important as the construction itself,” says Guy Krepps, project director with Enbridge. “We were made to feel so welcome in communities all across the Prairies and I think that really inspired our workers to want to show their appreciation and give back.”
A heartwarming example of giving back to the community began with a letter posted in September 2017 to an online construction bulletin board by Karen Griffith, who was working as a housekeeper at a motel in Outlook, Sask.
“I am not sure who to address this to,” her post began, “but I just want to tell you how Enbridge is helping me.
“I am a single mom. I have always struggled to raise my five kids. They have all left home, the last two this year. I am a gramma that helps raise my grandson that my son raises alone.”
With the motel full of pipeline workers, Griffith quickly went to full-time hours and earned a little extra by doing their laundry in the evenings and delivering it the next morning.
“Any of the workers I came into contact with were very kind and gracious, they all overpaid me,” she says.
In her post, Griffith explained that the extra work had almost enabled her to buy her grandson the Nintendo Switch he wanted for Christmas and was also helping to pay for some of her daughter’s wedding.
“The friendships I am forming with your awesome employees is heartwarming,” her post concluded, “You don’t know how much your company does for people like me.”
Meanwhile, at the end of another hectic week, in another part of cyberspace, a couple of Enbridge contractors read Griffith’s post and were instantly moved.
“It was a real tear-jerker,” one of them says. “It really hits home to hear how much of an impact we do have in these communities, someone working hard on minimum wage trying to make ends meet.
“We talked about it and thought we should do something special for her,” the contractor recalls. “It was a Friday, I went home for the weekend, picked up a Nintendo and some games and had it gift wrapped. On Monday morning, a ‘Secret Santa’ dropped it off at the motel with a note to thank her for her kind words.”
After Griffith posted a reply on the portal expressing her surprise and appreciation for the unexpected and thoughtful gift, the matter was a hot topic of “whodunnit” speculation at the next Enbridge construction team meeting.
“Nobody knew who it was, and some of the guys were really curious,” says one of the Santas. “We just smiled and kept it quiet.”
“I was absolutely shocked when I got the package at the motel,” Griffith says. “I wasn’t expecting anything, not even a reply to my letter. My grandson was nine years old at the time and when he heard the story on Christmas morning, he just couldn’t believe that complete strangers would do something like that.
“I’ll never forget the look on his face when he opened that package.”
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