Keeping Watch

A trio of updates on the Trans Mountain project. A loss, a win, and a 'we’ll see'.
Bonus content, a couple of games for the kids!

Recent events highlight the value of knowing the history on this project, and keeping watch as it stumbles forward.

A loss for Chilliwack

WaterWealth filed an application for review of the Canada Energy Regulator’s decision in the City of Chilliwack detailed route hearing. As a preliminary matter the application pointed out that in the Commission’s hearing decision they’d described WaterWealth’s alternate route wrong.

The Commission issued an addendum at the same time they issued a rejection of WaterWealth’s application for review. The addendum replaced the incorrect description of WaterWealth’s alternate route with a different incorrect description.

Yes, they really did that.

When this new regulator replaced the NEB -- in part because the public had lost confidence in the NEB -- we’d hoped for better. Hope we tried to hold on to despite red flags like how when hearings were re-starting they were telling everyone they wouldn’t even listen to arguments for alternate routes.

In the hearing decision that followed, CER said there was no contingency crossing method for WaterWealth’s proposed trenchless crossing of Highway 1 at Evans Interchange. Had they somehow overlooked the Ministry of Transportation Guidelines for Pipelines that were in evidence? Those guidelines said that a trenched crossing could be accepted if a geotech said trenchless wouldn’t work. In the application for review, WaterWealth pointed out that evidence. The CER simply ignored that issue in their rejection.

It’s not worth the time to go over the flaws in the process point by point. Instead here's a drawing game for any future engineers you may know!

Suitable for all ages, though budding engineers too young to read yet will need help with the instructions. The goal is to draw a line from each of the red squares to the smaller red rectangle. It’s ok that the red rectangle is small, the equipment for Direct Pipe installations goes at the entry points – those are the red squares. Direct Pipe is a steerable method, so the lines can curve, but no sharp turns. Road crossings should be as close to perpendicular as possible, between 90 and 70 degrees. Click on the image for a larger version to print out and draw on. See if little ones in your family can solve this puzzle that Trans Mountain and the Canada Energy Regulator couldn't!



A win for Watson Elementary School   A+

Next up was the commitment lists Trans Mountain filed following the hearings. The list filed for the hearing for Watson Elementary School had significant differences from the original commitments made in the hearing.

Among those differences:

  • Safe paths for students during construction were eliminated.
  • A commitment made in Reply Evidence to the District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) became a commitment to the Board of Education, cutting DPAC out of the picture despite that it was DPAC who filed evidence in the hearing, and a reply to DPAC in which the commitment had been made.
  • A commitment to use workspace on the school grounds only during a particular period of time became a commitment to, during a particular period of time, only use the workspace on the school grounds. (See what they did there?)

It might have flown under the radar too, because the person at DPAC most familiar with the hearing record wasn’t at DPAC any more. Fortunately WaterWealth had helped in that hearing so was able to alert DPAC. Hours were spent going over original commitments in hearing documents, comparing to the commitment list, and composing a document to explain the deficiencies and their significance to the CER.

It was a relief when Trans Mountain chose not to fight and responded to that filing with agreement to change the commitment list to match the original commitments made.


At Browne Creek Wetlands, we'll see

Regarding a timing commitment for work in Browne Creek Wetlands Trans Mountain seems to have chosen to fight. During the City hearing, and even before, Trans Mountain had said they would work in Browne Creek Wetlands during the dry period in summer. The CER relied on that timing in the hearing decision, saying:

“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.”

Recently though, Trans Mountain filed Right of Entry applications against property owners north and south of the wetlands. That prompted a look at the latest construction schedule where mention of "Major Trenchless Crossings" seemed to indicate they were going to proceed at Browne Creek Wetlands imminently. We knew from Trans Mountain's noise management plan that the intake for the Vedder River trenchless crossing would be smack in the middle of Browne Creek Wetlands.

WaterWealth wrote the CER quoting the record where Trans Mountain and the Commission had addressed the timing at Browne Creek Wetlands, and asking that either Trans Mountain confirm that construction in Browne Creek Wetlands will take place during the timing committed to in the hearing or, failing that, for the CER to uphold the timing commitment.

Trans Mountain responded, in effect trying to redefine Browne Creek Wetlands to mean only Browne Creek. They plan to do the Direct Pipe crossing of Hopedale Slough, Vedder River, and Peach Creek between January and April 2022. The majority of the equipment to make a Direct Pipe crossing goes at the intake site, and for this crossing that intake site would span most of the distance between Browne Creek and Hopedale Slough. The streams also flow together down slope from the intake site, which means the construction site would be ringed by streams on all sides where surface runoff might flow from the site, as well as in the direction of groundwater flow beneath the site. Groundwater emergence can be an important factor in spawning sediments, and Trans Mountain would be driving a very large drill into that groundwater to drag in a pipe nearly a metre in diameter.

Salmon_newborn_300.jpgPink, coho, and chum salmon spawn in those streams. Chum returns are so low this year that fishing them is prohibited. During that January to April period there would be salmon eggs and alevin in the streambeds. Trans Mountain's new construction timing also overlaps spawning periods for cutthroat trout, amphibians including red-legged frogs, which are listed 'special concern' under the Species At Risk Act (SARA), and Salish sucker which are SARA listed 'threatened' and for which Hopedale Slough is identified as critical habitat in the federal Salish sucker recovery strategy.

Trans Mountain has had many sites where they've had problems with release of drilling fluid and trouble with runoff of sediments and turbid water from the right-of-way during heavy rains. A release of drilling fluid killed salmon at their North Thompson 6 Line 1 replacement. At a site in the Coquihalla River just last month heavy rain raised the river, overwhelmed their pumps, and submerged generators and a mini-excavator in the river. The Direct Pipe intake site at Browne Creek Wetlands may be inundated during Trans Mountain’s newly proposed timing, and even if not, heavy rains or a release of drilling fluid running off the site, or groundwater contamination from the drilling beneath it, could harm spawning areas downstream.

WaterWealth has filed a reply to Trans Mountain’s response, further explaining to the CER why allowing Trans Mountain to renege on the timing commitment in Browne Creek Wetlands would set the stage for a damaging ‘accident’, and asking the regulator to intervene to protect the many species that spawn in this important habitat area. We’ve also alerted the City, Stó:lō, the MLA for the area, and the compliance branch of the BC Environmental Assessment Office.

Again this is a situation where without someone familiar with the hearing records the problem may have just flown under the radar. (You might wish the regulator would catch these things themselves, but as with the DPAC commitments ... yeah, not so much.) Now the question is, will the CER step up?

While we wait, here’s another game for the kids!

In the map below, from Trans Mountain’s Supplemental Evidence in the hearing, can you identify Browne Creek Wetlands? (Click for larger version in a new window)

Trans Mountain Browne Creek Wetlands Map

If you picked the green shaded area labelled “Browne Creek Wetlands” and identified on Trans Mountain's map legend as "PARK/PROTECTED AREA" we'd say you're right! And you’d be in agreement with the City’s map from the page on the City website about Browne Creek Wetlands. Text on the City web page reads “The Browne Creek Wetlands are located in the Vedder Greenway, on the south side of the Vedder River, and extend from the Vedder River Campground west of the Southern Railway bridge.”

Now that route hearings are over though, it seems Trans Mountain, and presumably Michels Canada as the contractor for our area, are trying to disagree.

City Browne Creek Wetlands Map

Years of being in the thick of the regulatory processes on this project provide a base from which to catch the significance of a tweak in the wording of a filing, or make inferences from filings not directly related to a place. Keeping pace with compliance filings on the project was how WaterWealth spotted two streams in a minor update that were missing from the project's main watercrossing inventory. WaterWealth suggested to CER that an error of that magnitude relative to the size of the update called for a complete new watercrossing inventory to be filed. The CER disagreed, concluding that everything was fine. A week later Trans Mountain filed a new watercrossing inventory for the BC portion of the project, with over 400 new watercrossings!

Trans Mountain are just gearing up to start construction in our area. Construction monitoring will be necessary in the new year. If you value WaterWealth's work in relation to the pipeline, please consider supporting with a donation, or even better sign up as a sustaining supporter. (And if things like the Deer Creek habitat restoration are more what floats your boat, an update on that is coming soon!)


Our Wealth is in Our Water, Let's Protect It!


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participation in planning and decision making that affects our shared home waters.
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Salmon babies image: OpenCage, retrieved from Wikimedia.

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published this page in Blog 2021-10-28 22:15:50 -0700