The Power of Volunteers

When Trans Mountain Expansion Project route hearings started the first time, in 2017/2018 under the NEB, the route here in Chilliwack did not cross Watson Elementary School.

Under the NEB, route hearings always included three issues:

- location of the pipeline,
- methods of construction, and
- timing of construction.

When route hearings started the second time, in 2019 just as the NEB was replaced by the CER, the route had been changed and it did cross Watson Elementary School.

Under the CER, those who had not filed a statement of opposition in the first round had to show “a material change in circumstances” in their statement of opposition (SOO) for the second round. And under the CER that material change in circumstances determined which of the three issues was included in your hearing. Most only got one. A few got two. Only one new SOO filer got all three issues included in the scope of their hearing.

Even though the route had not crossed Watson Elementary School before, in the route hearing for the elementary school the Chilliwack Board of Education was only allowed to address the location of the pipeline. Not methods or timing of construction.

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The Chilliwack District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) also filed a statement of opposition. In it they raised concerns relating to each of the three issues. Trans Mountain tried to block DPAC’s statement of opposition, bizarrely arguing in part that the change of the pipeline route from not crossing the elementary school to crossing the elementary school “does not satisfy the CER’s requirement for a material change in circumstances”.

Fortunately the CER did not buy that argument and DPAC was granted a hearing, later combined into one hearing in which both the School Board and DPAC were “SOO filers.” DPAC got location of the pipeline in scope, and timing of construction.

DPAC volunteers poured countless hours into researching the pipeline and potential impacts to the young students and the school community. Evidence and arguments were filed regarding things like safe access, construction safety, particular health vulnerabilities of young people in the event of a pipeline accident, and quality of education – complicated by the reality of trying to provide education under covid with the potential that more education may need to take place outdoors.

One of the commitments Trans Mountain made in the hearing was to do construction across the elementary school during the summer months of July and August to avoid risks and disruptions during the busier school months.

CER approved the route July 12, 2021. On July 27, 2021, Trans Mountain informed the CER that they could not complete construction at the elementary school before the start of the school year, so would defer starting construction at the school until summer 2022.

While there are strong views that an elementary school is no place for a major construction project, much less a large heavy-oil pipeline, this timing concession to help keep students safe and to keep the school property available to them through the school year is an incredible win for the school community. A win made possible by the tireless work of DPAC volunteers, without whom timing would not even have been up for discussion in the route hearing for the elementary school.

Deepest respect and gratitude for their efforts in a difficult, complicated process that was undoubtedly the furthest thing from their minds when they first stepped up to volunteer for DPAC.

 

 

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published this page in Blog 2021-07-30 16:21:45 -0700