No Hearing is an Island

(Be sure to check the update at the bottom.)

langley_tm_rte_350.jpgYou may have seen the headline, “Trans Mountain deal means new Fort Langley foot bridge.”

The Township of Langley is getting $1.4 million from Trans Mountain’s Community Benefits program for construction of a pedestrian bridge in Fort Langley. This follows the Township withdrawing from the detailed route hearings on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project in May. The Aldergrove Star article indicates the Township reached agreement with Trans Mountain on the issues of importance to the Township.

However, the Township decision to withdraw from the hearings has impacts beyond their own hearing.

Being the local government, their evidence would have appeared in all the other hearings that overlap geographically with theirs, had they filed any. Instead the Township filed a request for an extension on their written evidence deadline. In effect that request was granted by the CER, but because of changes to hearing schedules due to covid-19 rather than directly in answer to the Township request.

Before written evidence became due under the new schedules, the Township withdrew from the hearings. That move denied the Langley businesses and private landowners still in the hearings of the evidence that their local government, with its technical and legal capacity, may have filed in its own hearing and by extension theirs.

The Star article contained one red herring, “Although the Township opposed the project officially for many years, because pipelines are under federal jurisdiction, it had no real ability to prevent the pipeline from being built.”

The Township wasn’t trying to prevent the pipeline from being built. Detailed route hearings don’t block a project, they just provide a process step where local knowledge and local concerns can be applied to finding “the best possible detailed route of the pipeline and the most appropriate methods and timing of its construction” as required by the CER Act.

That red herring language about federal jurisdiction is a bit concerning to see, because similar language has popped up in Chilliwack at times when the City of Chilliwack’s role in regulatory processes seemed uncertain.trans-mountain_chilliwack.jpg In the facilities hearing where the Township showed some leadership, Chilliwack only filed a letter of comment. And both times detailed route hearings have started, Chilliwack’s participation has been anything but certain. As the most recent hearings were about to start, residents were hearing from the City that the segment 6.3 realignment hearing had filled the role of a detailed route hearing in that segment in the heart of Chilliwack. Residents were also told that the CER would not hear arguments for alternate routes in detailed route hearings.

Fortunately those misunderstandings seemed to have been sorted out in time for City to get involved in the detailed route hearings. And the involvement of the City is vital to the protection of local interests in Chilliwack.

At issue are City drinking water wells, schools Trans Mountain’s proposed route would cross, residential areas that have twice the density of properties per pipeline kilometre than any other part of the Project route from Edmonton to Burrard Inlet and where the pipeline would be in peoples’ yards less than 10 metres from their houses. Peach Creek, where decades of investment have been made, and continue to be made, in habitat enhancement for salmon spawning. The Vedder River, popular for fishing, tubing, and swimming, with Yarrow Waterworks wells on its banks down stream of the pipeline crossing and the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve directly across from Yarrow’s wells. Browne Creek Wetlands, another immensely popular recreational and wildlife area with recent salmon habitat improvements and also home to endangered Salish suckers.

heron-and-nest.jpgTrans Mountain even has control points in its spill planning that, if a spill occurred where those control points would come into play, would contain the spill in the waterways of the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve – home to endangered Salish suckers, western painted turtles, and of course the Great Blue Herons themselves, a species of special concern federally and provincially.

There are a number of detailed route hearings in progress in Chilliwack. But none have the geographic scope of the City’s hearing. WaterWealth’s statement of opposition was not accepted by the CER, so WaterWealth only got into the hearings as an intervenor in the City’s hearing. If the City withdrew at any point before the hearings conclude, not only would the City’s evidence –with two alternate route options -- be gone like it never existed, so would WaterWealth’s with its alternate route and the years of volunteer efforts to protect our home waters.

Evidence filed by two private landowners and the District Parent Advisory Council in their own hearings has made reference to WaterWealth’s evidence. If the City were to withdraw, WaterWealth’s evidence would be out of the picture, and with it the use made of it by those landowners and DPAC.

The School District filed a statement of opposition saying “It is the responsibility of the Chilliwack Board of Education to consider the safety and well-being of the student body it serves and the staff it employs. The placement of a pipeline carrying diluted bitumen or other petroleum products on school grounds is an unnecessary and unreasonable risk to those that depend on Watson Elementary School and Vedder Middle School for their education or their employment.”

The School District has been represented in their hearing by the same lawyer as the City. As would have been the case with the Township, the City’s evidence is filed in all of the other hearings that overlap geographically with theirs. The School District filed no additional evidence of their own. Which means that if the City were to withdraw the School District would still be in a hearing, but without evidence.

Why all this talk of what would happen if the City withdrew? Because you can bet Trans Mountain has run through these “what if” scenarios. And there’s always been two processes on the project. The hearings, where everything is on the public record aside from very limited exceptions where a request for confidentiality is granted by the regulator; and the direct negotiations with Trans Mountain, that are never public and which in many cases start with Trans Mountain requiring non-disclosure agreements.

So, we just wanted residents to know how much the right of local concerns and knowledge to be heard by the regulator hinges on what the City does. These hearings will be over in a couple of months, if they run their full course. The outcome will be borne by the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of this community. Those of us in a position to present evidence should at least get to have it considered by the regulator.

Whatever negotiations may be going on behind the scenes, the City must see their detailed route hearing through to its conclusion.

 

Update: The day this blog post went up, an email was also sent to Chilliwack Mayor and Council with similar content. The Mayor's reply said "City of Chilliwack involvement is still ensured." A very welcome reassurance!

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