Letter to Government of Canada on Trans Mountain

Climate impacts are being seen on waters across Canada, and certainly in B.C., with changes in water flows, temperatures, pH, algae growth, spread of invasive species, and effects of wildfires. As climate impacts become increasingly significant, more and more people question the development of new fossil fuel projects and infrastructure and corresponding increase in fossil fuel production and emissions.

Despite this, the Government of Canada has consistently indicated their intention to approve the Trans Mountain Expansion Project again following the original approval having been quashed by the Federal Court of Appeal.

declaration.jpgWaterWealth's position is that growth of fossil fuel production and infrastructure should have ended with the 20th century. However, if the government are intent on building the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, political gamesmanship on the project must not cause them to overlook mitigations that can diminish or avoid direct impacts on waterways and communities in the project's path. Chilliwack, where WaterWealth is based, is one such community where needless risks are imposed by the project as planned.

The federal government have indicated they will announce their decision on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project by June 18, 2019. If they do approve the project they have the power to apply conditions that could mitigate impacts on communities. The following letter was sent this morning (21 May 2019) to federal decision makers and representatives to ensure that they are aware of needless risks to Chilliwack and the route change that could mitigate those risks.

WaterWealth encourages others to express their views on the project prior to the June 18 federal decision date. The email addresses of the federal representatives this letter went to are: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]


"Our Wealth is in Our Water – Let’s Protect It"


21 May 2019

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P., Prime Minister of Canada
The Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, P.C., Minister of Natural Resources
The Honourable Catherine McKenna, P.C., Minister of Environment and Climate Change
The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, P.C., Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
The Honourable Marc Garneau, P.C., Minister of Transport
The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, P.C., Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations
The Honourable Ralph Goodale, P.C., Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
The Honourable Navdeep Singh Bains, P.C., Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development
The Honourable William Francis Morneau, P.C., Minister of Finance
The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, P.C., Minister of Infrastructure and Communities
Mr. Mark Strahl, M.P. for Chilliwack-Hope

Re: Route Safety & Pending Government Decision on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project

Dear Prime Minister, Ministers, and Member of Parliament

The November 1, 2016 Report from the Ministerial Panel for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP) closed with six questions the Panel said “we commend to the Government of Canada for serious consideration -- if not resolution -- as it considers the potential future of this project.”

The fifth question was “If approved, what route would best serve aquifer, municipal, aquatic and marine safety?” On that question the Ministerial Panel wrote of recent spills; the bunker oil spill in English Bay where less than half was recovered; the Husky Oil spill in the North Saskatchewan River that forced several communities to shut down water supplies; the tug boat sinking near Bella Bella where oil booms broke up in bad weather. The Panel wrote “It is in this context that the Government must decide whether the Trans Mountain Pipeline is a worthwhile risk -- and whether its current route is the right one.”

The Panel further reported that “more than one presenter suggested to the panel that the Trans Mountain route, as proposed, is an historical accident, not a first choice. They said they doubted that anyone, designing an optimal route today, would choose to thread the pipeline through some of the most densely populated parts of British Columbia”.

That is true in Chilliwack from where I write today, as it is in Burnaby where Trans Mountain has applied to reroute the existing pipeline (TMPL) out of residential areas and into the planned TMEP tunnel through Burnaby Mountain. Yet in Chilliwack the route of the new pipeline and addition of 50,000 barrels per day to the 66-year old existing pipeline impose needless risks with potential for severe consequences to schools, residential areas, community drinking water wells, and some of the most ecologically sensitive areas of the community, all while an alternative route with no such high consequence areas is available.




"Our Wealth is in Our Water – Let’s Protect It"


The sixth question posed by the Ministerial Panel was ‘How does federal policy define the terms “social licence” and “Canadian public interest” and their inter-relationships?’ For this one might look to ministerial mandate letters which include, “Our platform guides our government.” That platform, on the topic of environmental assessments, commits to “ensure that decisions are based on science, facts, and evidence, and serve the public’s interest.” In the words of Langley Township Solicitor Maegen Giltrow, as quoted in the Ministerial Panel report, “The definition of public interest cannot include local communities bearing the burden of the unnecessary risks and costs of the project.”

Also in the Liberal platform is found, “While governments grant permits for resource development, only communities can grant permission.” In Chilliwack the community has not granted permission regarding the planned route of the TMEP. More statements of opposition were filed with the NEB regarding the route of the pipeline across Chilliwack than for any other section of the project. In fact, approximately half of all statements of opposition filed for the entire project were from Chilliwack.

The primary concern among Chilliwack residents’ statements of opposition was the Sardis-Vedder Aquifer from which we get our water. The Sardis-Vedder Aquifer is an unconfined sand and gravel aquifer with high demand, productivity and vulnerability. It is not only a necessity for our economy and quality of life, but a source of great community pride for the exceptional quality of water it provides.

The City of Chilliwack’s August 18, 2015 letter of comment to the NEB in the initial TMEP hearings said, “Once contaminated, it is unlikely that the aquifer could be remediated adequately to use for drinking water purposes again.” At the detailed route hearing stage the City’s October 19, 2017 statement of opposition was unequivocal, "The City categorically opposes the routing of the project through lands proximate to the Aquifer. The Project must be routed away from the City's drinking water source."

When the TMEP was first approved, part of the route in Chilliwack was in a BC Hydro right-of-way. Post-approval the alignment between 500 kV circuits on the Hydro right-of-way proved impossible to construct. Rather than an alignment next to a 230 kV circuit that BC Hydro said would be acceptable, Trans Mountain applied to move that portion of the TMEP into the original TMPL right-of-way. Given the choice of an impossible route and Trans Mountain’s chosen alternative, the NEB approved the change.

Those decisions by Trans Mountain and the NEB put both pipelines across Watson Elementary school and through backyards between homes where in some places not even the full 18.3 metre easement for the original TMPL exists. Special crews and equipment would be needed to install the new pipeline in this area. Were a spill ever to occur there, Trans Mountain’s evidence said that,

“To access a spill site, responders will remove non-permanent structures such as decks, above ground pools, fences, and sheds. Permanent structures may also have to be removed if required.”



"Our Wealth is in Our Water – Let’s Protect It"


The only permanent structures present of course are peoples’ homes. However, that spill response in the residential area nearest the elementary school would be of the highest urgency is indisputable. Where the pipeline crosses Watson Elementary and the residential area west of the school is also the portion of the pipeline route that runs perilously close to city wells.

In the event of a spill, the crisis of a complex subsurface hydrocarbon plume reaching groundwater between homes near city wells could be compounded by oil spray. A ruptured high pressure oil pipeline can spray over a large area, one famous example being at what is now the Bemidji Crude Oil Spill Research Site in Minnesota, where oil sprayed over 6500 to 7500 square metres. A similar spray in Chilliwack could cover most of the distance between the pipeline and city wells. The many catch basins and soak away pits of the neighbourhood’s storm drain system would direct the spill toward groundwater.

In addition to Watson Elementary School, Vedder Middle School is also crossed by the pipeline route. Trans Mountain’s Pipeline Emergency Response Guidelines for Schools includes instructions to try to seal school buildings and turn off sources of ignition. General guidelines include “Do not operate school buses, or any vehicles, mechanical equipment, cellular phones, electronic devices or any item that could create a spark near a suspected release.” Bus driver guidelines also advise not to use cellular phones.

One can easily imagine that were a significant rupture of either pipeline to occur in a school yard the first impulse of many students would be to reach for their phones to share the event on social media. In the residential areas, where the pipelines would be as little as 6 metres from homes, there would be any number of motor vehicles, appliance pilot lights, fireplaces, barbeques, and other sources of ignition.

Beyond the schools and residential areas the TMEP route (still following the old TMPL right-of-way) unnecessarily adds risk to areas of exceptional recreational and ecological value in Chilliwack where it crosses Peach Creek, the Vedder River, and Browne Creek Wetlands.

Peach Creek is a salmon habitat enhancement area initially developed in 1976-1977. It was recently extended from a point just above where it joins the Vedder River to carry on to near Salwein Creek East and the upstream boundary of the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve. Dike trails and the Peach Creek Rotary Trail are enjoyed by residents year-round. Originally constructed under a grant from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Peach Creek Rotary Trail now sees as many as 18,000 visits per month and is a popular place to view spawning chum and coho salmon.

In Vedder River fish species include sockeye, pink, chum, coho, and chinook salmon as well as steelhead and cutthroat trout. The local economy benefits from this being one of BC’s most popular sport fishing locations. In addition to fishing and walking the dike trails, wading, swimming, tubing and kayaking are popular summer activities along Vedder River.



"Our Wealth is in Our Water – Let’s Protect It"


Browne Creek Wetlands, like Peach Creek, is a place where significant investment has been made in salmon habitat enhancement, providing valuable spawning, rearing and overwintering habitat. Hopedale Slough, crossed by the TMEP within Browne Creek Wetlands, is critical habitat for endangered (SARA) Salish Sucker. Beavers, bobcats, Pacific great blue heron, and red-legged frogs (the latter two SARA special concern) are among the species that may be seen in this popular walking and equestrian area.

The Trans Mountain project proposes to cross these sensitive areas by drilling and trenching in what is an area of very high liquefaction potential near the Vedder Mountain Fault. The crossing is also upstream of the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve on the north side, and more community wells -- Yarrow Waterworks -- next to the Vedder River on the south side.

In an application to participate in detailed route hearings the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve wrote:

“The Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve is one of the last existing examples of undyked floodplain wetland habitat in the Fraser Valley, and representative of a habitat type that is in perilous decline across the world. The GBHNR is home to one of the largest Pacific Great Blue Heron colonies in the Lower Mainland, B.C., with upwards of 150 nests in any given year. The reserve also provides breeding, foraging, and staging habitat to over 140 species of birds seasonally.”

Species with Provincial or Federal status levels found at the Heron Reserve include Oregon forestsnail, Salish sucker, Pacific great blue heron, western painted turtle, northern red legged frog, Pacific sideband snail, and autumn meadowhawk.

In a letter of comment the Cultus Lake Aquatic Stewardship Society wrote regarding the Vedder River and adjacent habitat areas that a pipeline spill “could severely damage approximately 7 kilometers of fish habitat and a river corridor that is vital for several species of fish traveling upstream to countless tributaries and spawning channels.” Species include the endangered (COSEWIC) Cultus Lake sockeye.

While Peach Creek, Vedder River, and Browne Creek Wetlands provide vital habitat for many species and highly valued recreational areas for residents and visitors, they complicate pipeline maintenance and emergency response. Access would be difficult in wooded and wetland areas for equipment needed for repairs or spill response. Containment and clean up of a spill in the fast, turbulent section of the Vedder River at the proposed pipeline crossing would be all but impossible.

Catastrophic pipeline failure is not the only spill risk the pipeline poses in high consequence areas of Chilliwack. A more insidious risk is that of leaks below the threshold of detection of Trans Mountain’s leak detection systems. The company has said that their leak detection threshold is in the range of 2 to 5% of pipeline flow. Upon completion of the expansion project the two pipelines will carry 350,000 (TMPL)



"Our Wealth is in Our Water – Let’s Protect It"


and 540,000 (TMEP) barrels per day. A leak of two percent from either pipeline would be 46,375 or 71,550 litres per hour respectively that could leak undetected. Trans Mountain has committed to install an experimental fibre-optic leak detection system with the new pipeline in the area nearest City wells. That system is more sensitive but is experimental. Discerning leak signals from noise would be critical.

Past oil spills such as Kalamazoo in 2010 or at Trans Mountain’s Sumas Terminal in 2012 demonstrate that staff mistaking real alarms for false is a problem even with less sensitive legacy leak detection. The ability of the very sensitive fibre-optic system to filter actual leaks from noise under an elementary school playground or the heavily travelled Tyson Road in the residential area is unproven. Furthermore, Trans Mountain could give no assurances that the fibre-optic system on the new pipe will improve protection for the 66-year old existing pipe. No improved leak detection is planned for Peach Creek, Vedder River, Browne Creek Wetlands, or the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve and Yarrow Waterworks  downstream.

Regrettably, Trans Mountain have maintained since their initial application for the expansion project that, “The primary criterion established for the selection of the TMEP Line 2 pipeline corridor was to locate it abutting the existing TMPL easement.” They have adhered to that criteria in Chilliwack over every effort of residents to defend our interests with the company and at every stage of the regulatory process.

Confusion over the issue was heightened and already weak trust further eroded when in January, 2017, not long before the NEB detailed route process was announced, Trans Mountain hand-delivered glossy fliers with the misleading statement "Other route locations are no longer under consideration.” No mention of detailed route hearings was made in the flier text or a “Key Milestones of Interest” project timeline. That was followed March 8, 2017 with a ‘by invitation’ information session at which none of the maps or materials showed the locations of the aquifer or city wells. Nor were the aquifer or city wells identified on public notices published April 5 and 7, 2017 that triggered the period for statements of opposition for the detailed route process. When Kinder Morgan owned the pipeline it was disappointing but not entirely surprising that the company would put its own interests ahead of those of residents.

Presently the pipeline route follows Highway 1 from Hope, BC, to Chilliwack. It crosses the highway before passing the very high consequence areas of Chilliwack described in this letter. It then returns to the highway at the Sumas pump station before crossing the highway again to go to the Sumas Tank Farm.

The direct risks the project imposes on our community could be mitigated by a route change to simply continue along Highway 1 between those points where it is already at the highway, perhaps diverging from the Highway on the approach to the pump station to minimize pipeline length. That alignment, staying on the north side of the highway to cross near Evans Road, then going south of the highway to the pump station, would have no community drinking water wells, no schools, no residential areas, and no areas of such exceptional recreational and ecological value as are found in the Vedder River corridor.



"Our Wealth is in Our Water – Let’s Protect It"


A route beside the highway would be easier to construct, needing no special crews or equipment. Maintenance access would be easiest and emergency access fastest near the highway. Spill response on the flat, calm waters of Vedder Canal would be easier, faster, and more effective from the highway and dike roads than through the wooded and wetland areas and fast, turbulent river section of the currently proposed crossing. The number of properties crossed would be reduced from 245 now to approximately 75 on the Highway 1 alternative. Replacing the 66-year old pipe onto the new route would improve safety and eliminate the need for repairs to it in areas that now are among the most difficult to access.

While Kinder Morgan owned Trans Mountain, former Minister of Natural Resources James Carr directed us to NEB detailed route hearings to address our concerns. However, this government has recognized a need to regain public trust in review processes and to that end struck the Ministerial Panel for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. In its report the Panel said “we would be remiss if we failed to report the large number of complaints about the NEB process and performance and the degree to which the public reports a loss of confidence in any recommendation that the NEB might have rendered.” Nothing has been done to address that loss of confidence, and the fact that the NEB ruled in the company’s favour in every detailed route hearing concluded before the project approval was quashed by the federal court only heightens a sense of futility in that expensive and time consuming adversarial process.

Now that the pipeline and expansion project are owned by the Crown we find hope for real change in the relationship between the company and directly affected Canadians. Citizens hope that the Crown will act with greater care for their safety and well being, particularly with regard to projects such as this that can be expected to remain in operation for several generations.

Following delivery of the National Energy Board reconsideration report on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, the Government of Canada has a new opportunity for a fresh look at the project. At this critical juncture, should you decide this is the time to build major fossil fuel infrastructure, you have the power to protect the public along the pipeline where Kinder Morgan failed to. If you choose for the project to proceed, please make it contingent on mitigation of unnecessary risks to citizens of Chilliwack by changing the route to avoid areas where consequences of an accident would be extreme.

Ian Stephen, Program Director,
The WaterWealth Project
Chilliwack, B.C.
[email protected]


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


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