Is Trans Mountain Accountable to Anyone?

In their latest move regarding Browne Creek Wetlands not only are Trans Mountain proposing work outside of the timing approved by the regulator, they've even applied for relief from a project condition to do so!

Browne Creek Wetlands was an area of particular interest in the City of Chilliwack detailed route hearing for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. The area is significant not only for salmon and threatened species like Salish sucker and red-legged frog, but also for important functions relating to community drinking water sources and drainage infrastructure and as a much loved recreational area. In an April 27, 2017 letter that formed part of the City's statement of opposition, then Mayor Sharon Gaetz wrote "We request a reconsideration of the route to move the pipeline away from this important and sensitive natural feature."

Trans Mountain Browne Creek site planIt must be noted that Trans Mountain's Vedder River crossing cannot be considered separately from Browne Creek Wetlands because the great majority of construction equipment and activity for the Vedder River crossing would be right in the middle of Browne Creek Wetlands, between Browne Creek and Hopedale Slough. (Click image for larger view in a new window.)

The salmon habitat in these streams is all the more vital after chum salmon returns were alarmingly low in the Fall of 2021, and were then impacted by extreme precipitation events that altered waterways throughout the watershed with scouring, massive deposits of gravel and debris, and even changes to the courses of many waterways. Hopedale Slough is also federally recognized critical habitat in the recovery plan for Salish sucker, while Browne Creek is considered likely Salish sucker habitat as the two streams join a short distance downstream of Trans Mountain's proposed construction site.

In their decision on the City of Chilliwack detailed route hearing, the CER Commission noted that the City of Chilliwack "requested that Trans Mountain undertake construction at the Vedder River during summer months." The Commission also noted that Trans Mountain's submissions included "Regarding the Browne Creek Wetlands at the Vedder River Corridor crossing, construction will occur during dry conditions in the summer."

In ruling that Trans Mountain’s proposed timing of construction in Chilliwack was the most appropriate, the Commission wrote:

"Given that Trans Mountain plans to construct across the Browne Creek Wetlands (at the Vedder River crossing) in the summer, at which time the wetland is anticipated to be dry where the crossing occurs, and that no specific impacts or concerns regarding timing have been raised other than those discussed above, the Commission finds that, on a balance of probabilities, Trans Mountain’s proposed timing of construction on the Lands is the most appropriate in the circumstances." (emphasis added)

The CER decision for the detailed route hearing was issued June 30, 2021. Given that Trans Mountain missed the summer of 2021, the next opening for Browne Creek Wetlands would be summer of 2022 -- coincidentally the same time that Trans Mountain has said they would do the construction at Watson Elementary School.

September 1 and September 7, 2021, Trans Mountain filed Right-of-Entry (ROE) applications for properties south and north of Browne Creek Wetlands.

October 12, based on those (ROE) applications and an October 1 construction schedule filing that didn't directly address Browne Creek Wetlands but seemed to suggest an earlier timing, WaterWealth wrote the CER questioning whether Trans Mountain intended to work in Browne Creek Wetlands outside of the summer timing, and if so, asking the CER to enforce the hearing decision.

October 22 Trans Mountain responded saying that they planned to work in the Wetlands to carry out the Vedder River crossing between January and April 2022!

October 26 WaterWealth responded to Trans Mountain's reply, expanding on why Trans Mountain's new timing is unacceptable and asking the CER to uphold the timing commitment that was stated in the hearing and relied on by the Commission in the hearing decision.

on January 17, in light of Trans Mountain having said that they wanted to start in Browne Creek Wetlands in January and having heard nothing from the regulator by the middle of that month, WaterWealth wrote the CER asking for a ruling on the issue.

We are now nearing the end of February. We've heard nothing from the CER, and now not only are Trans Mountain proposing to work in Browne Creek Wetlands prior to summer, they've even applied for relief from one of the project conditions to do so!

February 23 Trans Mountain filed for relief from the timing requirement of Project Condition 67 which requires them to provide geotechnical reports and horizontal directional drilling feasibility and design reports with final design drawings at least 3 months prior to commencing construction at crossings including Vedder River, a crossing that as noted earlier would heavily impact Browne Creek Wetlands.

In this latest filing Trans Mountain are saying "Construction preparation will commence mid-April and construction will commence early May." They are asking the CER to approve their Condition 67 filing and to grant the requested timing relief by mid-April.

Aside from Trans Mountain simply ignoring that the timing of construction in Browne Creek Wetlands was approved in the route hearings as being in the summer, one has to look askance at this Condition 67 filing generally.

It all became rather convoluted, but ultimately the hearing record for the route hearing was closed April 16, 2021. During the route hearing Trans Mountain had said that they wanted to do construction across Chilliwack in 2021, with the bulk of work falling in quarters 2 and 3 of 2021. So how is it that only now, more than half way through the first quarter of 2022, Trans Mountain is filing technical information that conditions require to be filed 3 months prior to construction, for construction they were planning to do in 2021?

Consider that in the context of the recently announced completion delay and 70% project cost increase -- this 70% being only the latest of multiple cost estimate increases! (In the original application this now $21.4-billion project was $5.4-billion.)

It has been obvious for a long time that the company has trouble meeting its own schedules and that costs were out of control. Consider, for example, the period in 2017 when statements of opposition were being taken for detailed route hearings and the company failed to adhere to its own chosen schedule for publishing notices and placement of public copies of PPBoR documents, resulting in the entire process starting over! But the company's bumbling does not excuse throwing away environmental protections, or commitments and decisions made in regulatory hearings. Particularly not in an area as ecologically significant and valued by the local community as Browne Creek Wetlands.

Whatever the reason we haven't heard from the CER on the timing issue, presumably Trans Mountain cannot proceed in Browne Creek Wetlands until either their request for relief is ruled on or three months elapse from the Condition 67 filing. So that's a bit of respite compared to the January timing they spoke of last October. Even so, three months would still not take us to the summer timing that WaterWealth as a party to the hearing believe to have been a clear outcome of that hearing.

Is Trans Mountain accountable to anyone? Let's hope so.



In case you want to have a look through the relevant filings yourself, here are links.

CER Decision in the City of Chilliwack Detailed Route Hearing
WaterWealth letter questioning Trans Mountain's intended timing
Trans Mountain's response
WaterWealth reply
WaterWealth request for a decision from CER
Trans Mountain's Condition 67 filing and request for relief


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published this page in Blog 2022-02-25 17:48:56 -0800