North Thompson 6 Replacement: Pre-construction

project_overview_300w.jpg[UPDATE: The HDD leaked, salmon were killed, and habitat restoration has been postponed years. Read through to the update for familiarity with the replacement project and surrounding area, or click here to skip to the update.]

April 3, 2019 Trans Mountain obtained NEB approval to replace the existing Trans Mountain pipeline’s 6th crossing of the North Thompson River.

The generosity of recent donors, transportation provided by Peter McCartney of Wilderness Committee, and hospitality and accommodations provided by the Tiny House Warriors, allowed Ian Stephen from WaterWealth to visit unceded Secwepemc territory to view the crossing project area on April 17. Snow from knee deep to hip deep in the forest limited how much of the site could be accessed in the time available, but it was good to at least get some sense of the project site before construction begins. (Click image for larger view)

Trans Mountain told the NEB the crossing needs to be replaced because the pipe is susceptible to failure due to damage from large woody debris or vortex shedding during a 1-in-100 or 200 year return flood event.

At present the project schedule is:

  • Tree Felling, skidding, decking and hauling: April 23-27, 2019
  • Skidding, decking, stumping, bunching and hauling: April 29-May 4, 2019
  • Site clean-up and demobilization: May 5, 2019
  • Mulching and grinding: late May and early June 2019 (five days)
  • Haul material off site: mid-June 2019 (three days)
  • Site preparation for pipe installation: late-July to mid-August 2019
  • Horizontal directional drill installation: early August to early September 2019
  • Conventional pipe installation: early September to early October 2019
  • Tie-in preparation, tie-ins, post tie-in activities: mid-September to late October 2019
  • Clean-up, restoration and demobilization: mid to late October 2019

The soon-to-be construction site includes old growth cedar and hemlock forest that will be cut down, and wetlands that will be filled in, to make room for the horizontal directional drilling operations to install the replacement pipe on a new alignment across the river. Cattail marshes, small streams, red-osier dogwood, willow, black twinberry, birch, cottonwood and spruce each have their niche in the rich and varied habitat of the project footprint.southern_mountain_caribou.jpg Federally listed species at risk that may be found in the area include grizzly bear (special concern), western toads (special concern), little brown bats (endangered), northern rubber boa (special concern), wolverine (special concern), and southern mountain caribou (endangered). Federally listed birds include barn swallow (threatened), common nighthawk (threatened), evening grosbeak (special concern), and olive-sided flycatcher (threatened). (No distinction is made here between COSEWIC and SARA listed species as the difference is only political. Endangered is endangered, whether politicians choose to act accordingly or not.)

tiny_dinosaur_print.jpgWalking the site, moose tracks lead the way to the river, passing by deciduous trees recently downed by beavers. Cavities likely made by pileated woodpeckers encourage closer looks at aged cedars, hinting at the possibility of glimpsing some furry or feathered opportunist making use of the hollow. Wildlife paths provide openings through thick forage to the river bank from which the fine gravel, sand and clay bottom could be easily seen through clear, cold water. Fallen trees help the river current scour pools that invite a dip despite the cold. Sandy and muddy river bank areas were heavily trafficked with tracks of moose, caribou, deer, bear, wolf, and whatever the three-toed thing was that made the track pictured here. Sandhill crane? Small dinosaur? Let’s call it small dinosaur just for fun. :)

Trans Mountain told the NEB that the pipe is not exposed in the river. They said they’d had divers down to check, and that in-line inspection GPS coordinates indicate approximately 0.49 m of cover remaining.DSC_0082_500w.jpg Yet we observed a distinct rust colour on river sediments where the 66-year old pipeline crosses. Was this rust colour from the pipe? If so, would it be found on sediments at surface from a pipe half a metre down? And does so much rust on river sediments suggest the pipe is in more imminent danger of failure than from a 1-in-100 or 200 year return flood? It seems like a deal with the devil, but with a couple hundred water licences on the river for uses like domestic water, irrigation, and livestock watering in addition to the river's vital ecological role, let’s hope they complete the crossing replacement before the old pipe does fail. (Note that as part of the proposed Trans Mountain Expansion Project the throughput of this 66-year old pipe from Edmonton to Burnaby will be increased by 50,000 barrels per day with no upgrade to the pipe itself aside from repair locations like this one.)

Temporary workspace and new right-of-way for the crossing replacement will impact wetlands (orange below) and mature and old growth forest (green below).


More on caribou

Ecojustice letter to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada.

'Death by a Thousand Clearcuts' website of the Upper Clearwater Referral Group, a citizen committee established November 2000 by the B.C. Ministry of Forests to ensure adherence to a formal, government-sponsored Local Use agreement. (Spoiler alert: government got what they wanted and walked away.)

BC is taking public comment until May 31, 2019 on a draft agreement with the federal government and a partnership agreement between BC, Canada, West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations on caribou recovery. Indications that Canadians care about these caribou help!

Removal of mature forest can be indirectly harmful to the endangered caribou population by altering habitat to increase forage for moose and deer, thereby increasing use of the area by wolves, as well as potentially allowing easier wolf movement and greater hunting sight-lines. Like wild salmon, these caribou populations have been the subject of studies and plans for decades, and subject of multiple formal requests by academic, policy, and citizen groups for emergency action. But their numbers continue to decline while no effective action is taken. Government shoot wolves, but don't protect caribou habitat.

In contrast, West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations in Treaty 8 territory implemented a self-imposed ban on hunting caribou in the 1970s and have led the way with a maternity penning program, native plant nursery, mapping of critical habitat based on traditional knowledge and science, and other initiatives.

interspersed with forest areas are several types of wetlands that serve many functions. They provide rich habitat -- food, water, homes, and breeding and nursery places -- for many species. They play a role in regulating surface water flows and groundwater recharge and discharge. They reduce flooding downstream, and filter sediments and pollution, contributing to water quality in the North Thompson where federally listed fish include bull trout (special concern), interior coho salmon (threatened), mountain sucker (special concern), and chinook salmon (endangered). Wetlands even play a role in air quality and the carbon cycle. Globally, according to the 2018 Global Wetland Outlook by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, we are losing wetlands three times faster than forests. Climate change and human land use are driving factors.

DSC_0155_300w.jpgTrans Mountain says in their NEB filings that sensitive natural features will be protected, and that temporary workspace will be fully restored. Restoration measures are to include such things as planting species that are less palatable to moose and deer, placement of coarse woody debris, and vegetation screens. NEB conditions specify details like density of conifer planting and numbers and size of course woody debris. Significantly, while Trans Mountain proposed 5 years of restoration monitoring, the NEB required a minimum of 15 years monitoring of success and effectiveness of restoration and access management measures.

Beyond impacts at its own location, this project is significant because of the approximately 1,355 water crossings planned for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, including a crossing with the new pipe (TMEP crossing BC-182) along the same alignment as this Line 1 replacement. Even before the Expansion Project has begun, Trans Mountain has put scientifically unproven spawning deterrents in streams and blocked spawning for no actual purpose, then argued that they can do so without answering to any level of government -- something no level of government has yet refuted. They've turned good habitat into riprap and brick trenches at integrity digs. They've failed to keep construction sediment out of streams as they continued expansion project work, with NEB complicity, at terminals and temporary infrastructure sites even after the project approval was nullified by the Federal Court of Appeal.


This North Thompson 6 crossing replacement will be the first time we get to see how they handle a crossing using horizontal directional drilling, a technique they intend to use on a number of Expansion Project crossings including the Fraser River between Surrey and Coquitlam. With any and all volunteers and allies along the nearly 1200 km pipeline route, WaterWealth will be watching these crossings and refining independent grassroots monitoring. If this Crown corporation is going to work in BC streams we want them to know that work is not going unnoticed, and that damage to streams and wetlands and the life they support will not go unchallenged. (Click any image below for a pre-construction slideshow)



The North Thompson Line 1 crossing #6 replacement had a frac-out, releasing drilling fluid into a seasonal tributary of the North Thompson River. Approximately 74,000 litres of drilling fluid leaked. Only 30,000 litres were recovered.

The release occurred outside of the Project’s temporary work space. Subsequent to the release Trans Mountain expanded and increased the frequency of their "frac-walks". This indicates that the distance the frac-out traveled before surfacing surprised them.

According to Trans Mountain staff, 6 juvenile coho salmon were killed and 15 "salvaged". Fortunately the tributary consisted of isolated pools and was not flowing into the North Thompson at the time, so the drilling fluid that surfaced was contained to the tributary.

Trans Mountain's own Environmental Protection Plan required DFO approval before resuming drilling, but Trans Mountain resumed drilling without requesting or receiving approval from DFO. The NEB accepted discussions internally with Trans Mountain staff and contractors as sufficient to address the non-compliance.

Following installation of the replacement pipeline, restoration of the approximately 10 acres cleared for workspace was to be done within one year of leave to open the new pipeline section. Leave to open was granted by the NEB 18 October 2019. Restoration of the workspace was to be completed by 19 October 2020.

15 November 2019, Trans Mountain submitted a request for relief from the timing requirements to change it to two years after leave to open. That request was granted, delaying restoration to 19 October 2021.

July 10, 2020 Trans Mountain submitted another request for relief from the timing requirements, this time extending restoration to November 30, 2022. They also changed the restoration plans to no longer include planting coniferous seedlings in the flood plain area on the south side of the river because it was "currently flooded". (Many locations in BC had unusually high water levels in the first half of 2020.) Instead of planting after the water subsides, Trans Mountain proposed to leave that area to "natural regeneration" and to "plant suitable and comparable species in the adjacent forest".

The CER had found Trans Mountain's Caribou Habitat Offset Measures Plan did not meet requirements of the project conditions. A new plan was filed by Trans Mountain today, 19 August 2020.

At the time of this writing, construction on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project has not really begun in BC, other than on their own properties and temporary infrastructure sites. If the North Thompson Line 1 crossing #6 project is an indication of how the expansion project can be expected to proceed, it's little wonder that a 'tree-sit' and camp have sprung up along the Brunette River in Burnaby, one of the first places Trans Mountain has indicated they plan to start construction on the new pipeline in BC.


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Showing 2 reactions

commented 2019-04-28 10:35:30 -0700 · Flag
The mention of spawning deterrents was about prior instances where they blocked spawning but no construction was being done so blocking spawning served no purpose.

It would be surprising to see more spawning deterrents while the expansion project has no federal approval. No doubt if they get approval they’ll use spawning deterrents again as a way to enable construction in streams outside of the safe times for fish.
commented 2019-04-27 10:14:25 -0700 · Flag
thank you for doing the treking and excellent reporting Ian.
Did you see spawning deterrent matting in situ now, or was that a reference to prior instances?