B.C. floods leave Saskatchewan truck drivers expecting delays, farmers bracing for backlogs

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Catastrophic flooding in B.C. this week has removed vital links in Canada’s transportation corridors, impacting industries across Canada – Nov 17, 2021

The ripple effects of the catastrophic B.C. floods have reached industries critical to Saskatchewan’s economy.

Parts of key thoroughfares like the Coquihalla Highway have been obliterated, leaving routes in and out of the Lower Mainland cut off. The first priority has been to reach trapped residents, but critical trade routes are also in need of repair.

Read more: B.C. declares state of emergency amid record-breaking floods

“I’m very aware of multiple drivers who are kind of stranded out there right now,” said Jordan Ewart, manager of policy and government relations with the Saskatchewan Trucking Association.

“Anxiety is high. There are some fears. Families are becoming worried, so certainly we’re hoping for a quick end to some of this weather.”

In conversations with a Saskatchewan trucking company, Ewart said he was told the current situation is unprecedented and “one of the biggest challenges the industry has ever had to face.”

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Read more: Reopening of Coquihalla Highway could take ‘weeks or months’ due to flood damage

Grocery stores in British Columbia are grappling with empty shelves and dairy farmers have been told to dump their milk, leading to worries about future shortages in products like yogurt and butter.

There are also concerns about transporting sanitation products, Ewart said.

“There’s, without a doubt, going to be disruptions to the supply chain,” he said. “How long this takes is unknown at this time.”

Rail service has been cut off to the Port of Vancouver — the biggest port in Canada and fourth largest in North America. Representatives for CP and CN told Global News work is underway on the corridors, but did not provide an estimated completion date.

Read more: Shoppers in B.C.’s Okanagan worry about food shortages amid floods, highway closures

Todd Lewis, who farms at Gray, Sask., is already expecting a backlog at the port for the products coming off Saskatchewan fields.

“Rail’s going to be running at capacity. Wheat and our other commodities need to be shipped on time,” said Lewis, who is also the president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan.

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Saskatchewan send billions of dollars in exports to countries including China, Japan and India — the vast majority of which travel through the Port of Vancouver.

Though Lewis expects railway repairs to be a priority in the flood recovery, he said exporters will need to look at alternate ports in Prince Rupert, B.C. and the Pacific Northwest region of the United States.

Read more: Thousands of animals have died in B.C. floods, thousands more need help: minister

“A big part of next spring (for agricultural producers) is getting product moved out this winter so we can have cash flow and so on,” he said.

About 30 per cent of Saskatchewan’s total exports are to Asian markets, so losing access to a critical port is a “significant concern,” according to Chris Dekker, the president and CEO of the Saskatchewan Trade & Export Partnership (STEP).

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“It certainly points to the fact that our supply chains both incoming and outgoing are sensitive, and are limited,” Dekker said.

“Certainly, there is a need to expand those.”

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