Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada is a place of outstanding beauty, one of North America's greatest natural treasures. More than 10,000km² (4,000 miles²) in size, it is home to the glaciers of the Columbia Icefield, hot springs, waterfalls, lakes and snow-topped peaks, as well as all kinds of wildlife, including grizzly bears, elk, caribou, wolverine, mountain lions and that national Canadian emblem - the moose.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, the eyes of conservationists worldwide are focused squarely on the construction of the petrol line. Under this scrutiny, it is critical that every precaution be taken to ensure that the area's diverse wildlife, as well as its delicate and fragile ecosystems, is fully protected.
It is a responsibility that Kinder-Morgan Canada Inc. and its prime contractor, North American Construction, have taken very seriously. They hired contractor Chinook Cove and its fleet of Volvo forestry machines to perform some of the more delicate clearance operations. Before any pipeline could be laid, the entire right-of-way had to be stripped of all timber, all logs had to be removed and everything had to be grubbed, every stump pulled out and all brush and stumps disposed of.
Don Matthew, President of Chinook Cove, explains: "Negotiations for this project went on for over two years. Not only is this a national park, it was the traditional hunting and trapping grounds of our people, the First Nations Simpcw Band (also known as the People of the North Thompson River). Our chief wanted to make sure that the people of the band were rewarded and had an opportunity to work on this project. I guess that is where I came in. I'm a band member and most of my operators are band members as well. It was a natural fit for us."
Don moved his fleet on site in late 2007 "It was really something," Don adds. "It was even a bit emotional - here we were cutting first and second growth timber that had been standing in many cases for well over one hundred years. And in some places, maybe even forever."
There were a number of obstacles the Chinook Cove team had to overcome. First, they were working in the winter months in an area where the daylight hours are very short, the temperature rarely goes above minus 20°C (minus 4°F), and there has only been one month of any year that did not record snowfall.
They were working right beside and often within inches of the current 'hot line' of the Trans Mountain Pipeline that was in full-time use. In many places the right-of-way ran parallel to the main line of the Canadian National Railway; with freight and high-speed passenger trains rolling through at all hours of the day and night. There were high-tension power lines in the area as well as a main east-west highway with truckers and tourists all interested in what was going on. It was not a regular forest harvesting operation.
Don first came across Volvo Construction Equipment back in 2003, when he dropped by Great West Equipment in Kamloops, Volvo's dealer group in that area. "They had a Volvo forestry excavator on my job site in just a few days. I didn't know very much about Volvo but I very quickly became a huge fan."
Don worked that first Volvo EC210B FX very hard. He was flipping stumps on a mountainside preparing the area for reforestation. The days were long, hot and the working conditions very difficult.
"The first thing I noticed was the fuel economy," he says. "I couldn't believe how easy this machine was on fuel. And the comfort of the cab. It was just great. I worked that first machine for two years and didn't have to do a thing to it other than daily maintenance."
On the TMX job, Don's entire fleet is made up of Volvos. Five Volvo EC210B FX machines, all with power-clams (fork like attachment ideal for picking up brush and rocks but not earth). A Volvo EC240B FX excavator, a Volvo EC240B FX log loader, a Volvo EC210B FX processor (attachment used for felling and cutting trees into log lengths), Don's original Volvo with over 6,900 hours on the meter - and a Volvo A30D articulated hauler. "We haven't even had a hint of a problem with any of them. Every Volvo has performed and worked flawlessly."
It's a view echoed by operator Chuck Matthew, who can't help but marvel at the EC210 FX's durability in extreme cold. "This is a fantastic machine," he raves. "Only problem is, it always starts! Even at minus 30°C (minus 22°F), after sitting all night. I can't even blame the machine and get some extra time off!"
Chinook Cove has since wrapped up the Jasper Park portion of this gargantuan project having taken great care that this precious area is protected, allowing it to return to its natural wilderness state. Now Don and his team are just waiting for the cold weather to return before moving their fleet to start work clearing for the next leg of the Trans Mountain Pipeline construction.
Text: Ron Mullins