The National Energy Board (NEB) hearing to consider a realignment of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline route through Chilliwack began Monday with the lawyer for local Indigenous people grilling the company over its communication and consultation.
The City of Chilliwack, the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) and local environmental group The WaterWealth Project have long expressed concern about the pipeline’s proximity to the aquifer.
And while the city and WaterWealth have lobbied for the pipeline route to be moved to the Highway 1 corridor, that option is not on the table.
What is up for discussion is a specific 1.8-kilometre stretch of the proposed route of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project (TMEP). Right around Watson elementary, the current route of the existing pipeline diverts from the BC Hydro corridor and cuts through the school yard and several residential properties.
For more than six years Kinder Morgan has been working on the TMEP, which will triple the capacity of the 1,100-kilometre oil pipeline that runs from Alberta to Burnaby. The NEB recommended the federal government approve the project in May, 2016 subject to 157 conditions, which the Liberal government did.
Niggling over routing is among many issues stalling the start of construction, which was set to begin in the Fraser Valley in the fall of 2017. The NEB approved a different route for this stretch to continue in the BC Hydro corridor, but Trans Mountain applied to have the route for the new pipeline run in the existing right-of-way.
Intervenors in the hearing this week in Chilliwack include the S’ólh Téméxw Stewardship Alliance (STSA), the City of Chilliwack, and Ian Stephen from the WaterWealth Project.
Jean Teillet, legal counsel for STSA, asked several questions of the eight representatives for Trans Mountain at the hearing about how and when the company provided information and interacted with local Sto:lo people.
Teillet pointed, for example, to evidence the company submitted that suggested on Feb. 28, 2017 a letter was sent to the People of the River Referrals Office, the operational wing of the STSA.
“Can you tell me where and to who that was … information was sent?” Teillet asked.
Phil Symington with Trans Mountain said it was sent to the STSA chair Dave Schaepe, who is also a senior archaeologist for the Sto:lo Nation.
“Sto:lo have no record of that,” Teillet responded.
She asked further why a letter in August about the route was sent to Betty Henry, chief of the Kwaw-Kwaw-Apilt band, which is near Townsend Park north of the Highway.
“May I ask why a letter was sent to a chief of a small Pilalt band about a reroute in the Chilliwack area?”
Broadly, Teillet suggested the company was not communicating with the STSA through the proper channels, and did not seem to be receiving STSA’s responses to Trans Mountain’s questions.
— NEB Canada (@NEBCanada) January 15, 2018
Prior to the questions being asked, Trans Mountain provided some opening statements. TMEP director Greg Toth said the company’s priority wherever possible is to use the existing right-of-way.
He said over this stretch by the city’s drinking water supply, the company has gone over and above requirements with thicker pipe, reduced depth of cover, external leak detection and better markings for the route.
“Chilliwack requested that this whole section be treated as a watercourse crossing,” Toth said, something they agreed to.
He added that 67 of 75 directly affected neighbours have agreements with the company, something he pointed to as evidence the company has consulted well with stakeholders.
“No directly-affected private landowners are intervenors in this proceeding,” he added.
The narrow nature of the hearing means it’s unlikely the City of Chilliwack’s main concerns will be addressed as both routes under consideration run through the aquifer.
The city wanted the NEB to deny the realignment and force Trans Mountain to reassess running the pipeline along the highway.
“The city does not accept the conclusion that the [Trans Canada Highway] route is inferior to the proposed realignment,” Mayor Sharon Gaetz wrote in a letter last year.
There are six other proposed route variances along the entire route, all of which are minor and will not trigger hearings.
BC Hydro engineers have said that with the required separation needed, the new ROW would be quite close to backyards of homes. The company concluded from this that the original ROW is best.
“The best possible alignment for TMEP is this one,” Toth said Monday.