Flooding-induced B.C. highway closures have caused a world of problems for Vernon trucking companies and their drivers. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Flooding-induced B.C. highway closures have caused a world of problems for Vernon trucking companies and their drivers. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Drivers stuck on coast as B.C. highway closures leave Vernon trucking companies in a rut

Some drivers may be flown inland to routes not affected by flooding, landslides

With routes from the B.C. Interior to the Lower Mainland severed by flooding and landslides, local trucking companies and their drivers are facing tough times.

Ryan Chambers, president of Vernon’s Chambers Transportation Group, said the company’s entire Vancouver fleet of roughly 40 trucks is sitting idle, and they have drivers who are stuck on the coast away from their homes and families.

It’s normal in the winter months to see one or two road closures at a time, he said, but the current situation is unprecedented.

“In my career — we’re a three generation family business — and even just talking to my dad, neither of us have ever seen something like this, ever,” Chambers said.

Chambers Transportation Group is primarily an industrial hauler that services a number of Okanagan-based saw mills. Chambers says the company has managed to redirect product for the time being, but worries the disruptions could lead to problems at local mills.

“There’s a whole bunch of mills that need to continue to try to do business, and when you cut off their ability to ship their product, they either need to stockpile product or they need to find new homes for their product, or they start to have to look at curtailing, which isn’t good for anybody,” he said.

READ MORE: Evacuated Merritt family asking for help after losing home to floodwaters

Chambers says the company is fortunate to have 400 trucks in operation across the Pacific Northwest, meaning the trucks parked on the coast represent just 10 per cent of their overall fleet.

The situation is more dire for Vernon-based Clark Freightways, as the highway disruptions have swallowed 70 per cent of the company’s revenue.

“It’s been incredibly difficult,” said Jeff Readhead, director of operations. “And we continue to wait on word from the ministry on when they anticipate the highways to be open, as well as looking at alternate scenarios to help support the flow of essential goods and services into the Okanagan and surrounding areas.

“Once (the roads) do open we’re committed to working day and night with our dedicated team members to make sure we’re part of the solution in restocking those shelves in the Okanagan,” Readhead added.

Solutions in the short term are hard to come by. Readhead said the BC Trucking Association is working with the U.S. to allow truckers to re-route across the border and back up through Osoyoos, but Chambers says that involves too many hurdles for his company.

“First off most of the trucks that we operate in B.C. aren’t legal to drive in the United States,” Chambers said. “And for drivers to be able to cross the border as a professional driver, there’s a whole different sort of accreditation required.”

Instead, Chambers Transportation Group is looking at flying drivers trapped on the coast to areas unaffected by the road closures.

“For drivers, if they’re not working they’re not earning a living,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to try to work with our drivers that are able to relocate on a short term basis to areas where they can work.”

READ MORE: Spallumcheen says ‘shop local’ while supply chains severed by flooding

Brendan Shykora
Reporter, Vernon Morning Star
Email me at Brendan.Shykora@vernonmorningstar.com
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