TMX Update March 2019

The NEB reconsideration on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project gave us a bit of a rest from that issue. Yet in some ways heightened urgency arose for the project broadly, and in Chilliwack specifically.

1,355 Watercourse Crossings. How many will they pave?

stewart creek before
Stewart Creek before.

In 2010 Trans Mountain found that their pipe had become exposed by erosion in Stewart Creek in Yarrow. They didn’t report it to the NEB until 2018 when they filed an Operations and Maintenance notice for repairs. Stewart Creek is heavily impacted by diversion and channeling, resulting in a habitat-poor stream overall. Even so, species found in the stream include Rainbow Trout, Steelhead, Cutthroat Trout, Coho, Chum, Peamouth, Brassy Minnow, Redside Shiner, Northern Pikeminnow, Prickly Sculpin, Threespine Stickleback, Lamprey, Pumpkinseed, Brown Bullhead, and Green Frog. The pipeline crosses Stewart Creek on the property of the Yarrow Ecovillage. Ecovillage residents had worked hard at habitat restoration along the stream on their property, creating an area of rich, diverse habitat where the greatest densities of salmon fry and other aquatic life are found.

It was here that to fix their exposed pipe Trans Mountain turned part of the stream into a brick half-pipe.

stewart creek after
Stewart Creek after.

The Ecovillage hired Mike Pearson, a PhD fish biologist with decades of experience in the Fraser Valley, to report on Trans Mountain’s work. Pearson’s report characterized what Trans Mountain’s had done as “work typical of a drainage engineering approach completely lacking in sensitivity to habitat values.”

It’s not like it would have been hard, or expensive, to do a better job. And it’s not like the company don’t know how to do a better job. There are other sites in the past where Trans Mountain’s filings with the NEB speak of using large wood pieces (such as root clusters or logs embedded in the bank) and boulder clusters to create habitat diversity following work in a stream.

One might think that the regulators -- NEB, Oil and Gas Commission, DFO -- would hold industry to a higher standard than this. But all signed off on it. In an inspection prompted by complaints, DFO said that nature would heal it in a year or two. To be fair, with staff and funding cuts and removal of habitat protection from the Fisheries Act it could be that remaining staff at DFO have little to work with. One might hope they are as frustrated as anyone with this ‘death by a thousand cuts’ sort of degradation of the environment we live in.

Be that as it may, it's important to recognize that this is the standard of work seen on private property next to organic farm fields in a section of stream where residents had improved habitat with their own expense and sweat. What will be the standard of work during Trans Mountain’s expansion project as they add a new pipeline on a route that includes some 1,355 watercourse crossings, many of which are out of the public eye?

Particularly with Trans Mountain now being a Crown corporation, Canadians have a right to expect better. Actions to come on this issue will include writing the Minister responsible, Amarjeet Sohi, to ensure that he is aware of what has happened on Stewart Creek and other streams in Abbotsford and Burnaby that were treated no better. We will call for the company’s practices to be raised to a standard that respects aquatic habitat and aquatic life like the seven Fraser and Thompson Chinook populations that were recently designated endangered by COSEWIC and that use waterways crossed by the project. We encourage everyone to write the Minister and let him know people care about the quality of work on major projects (whether or not one agrees the project should go ahead at all). WaterWealth will also be preparing volunteers to do pre-construction surveys and monitor streamcrossing work by Trans Mountain wherever possible.

Route Hearings Return. Maybe.

Expansion project construction may begin soon. The NEB reconsideration predictably concluded with a recommendation to approve the project again, and in some ways actually reduced oversight and transparency on it. The federal government has been adamant that the project will proceed, so approval is only waiting for them to decide they’ve done enough regarding First Nations consultations to satisfy the court in the challenges that will likely follow.

For Chilliwack and the rest of segment 6 the new approval will mean restarting route hearings that were cut off by the federal court ruling that nullified the previous project approval. Prior to the approval being nullified the City of Chilliwack had filed documents with the NEB requesting a route hearing and saying that "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". The City also expressed concerns about Browne Creek Wetlands from both environmental and infrastructure perspectives. The City's hearing, early stages of which were under way when the project was halted by the federal court, was the only hearing with broad enough geographic scope to entertain the possibility of examining a route along Highway 1 instead of the 1953 route across the aquifer and through school yards and residential areas that Trans Mountain propose to use again.

route_alternatives_approx_550.jpgPipeline route & potential alternative. Sardis-Vedder Aquifer shaded blue.

WaterWealth had been an intervenor in the original NEB hearings on the project and in the realignment hearing in Chilliwack where Trans Mountain moved part of the route out of a BC Hydro right-of-way and into residential neighbourhoods. We had written the federal government about risks the pipeline imposes in Chilliwack and the availability of the Highway 1 alternative that would eliminate many of those risks. Responses were received from the Minister of Natural Resources twice, directing us to the detailed route hearings as the appropriate venue for our concerns.

However, when it came time to file statements of opposition to gain entry to the detailed route process our statement was rejected by the NEB. Having been shut out of having a hearing ourselves, we applied to be an intervenor in the City’s hearing. That was allowed by the NEB. It seemed the Highway 1 alternative might at last be considered.

Then the BC local elections happened.

When the NEB filed its reconsideration report on February 22, 2019, Chilliwack’s new mayor told the Chilliwack Progress that he’s pro-pipeline and “they need to move forward.” Regarding concerns about the aquifer the mayor said "the company has addressed concerns with a thicker pipe planned and technology to find leaks if they happen."

In fact the 14.7 mm pipe planned is the standard thickness for the project in populated areas (Trans Mountain reply evidence A89043-2, page 37). Thicker than the 11.8 mm pipe used in unpopulated areas, but no concession for the safety of our City wells and in any case no protection for the 66 year old pipe (which ranges from 6.35 to 12.7 mm thick) that will have it's pressure increased by 50,000 barrels per day as part of the twinning project with no upgrade to the old pipe itself in our area.

The leak detection the mayor speaks of is experimental. Even if it works and can successfully filter real signals from noise (e.g. vehicle traffic or school children engaging in sports on the field) it only adds protection for leaks in the 2% to 5% of flow range that current leak detection systems miss. The experimental system does nothing for a large rupture that could coat homes and contaminate the aquifer very quickly, and there's no promise it would help detect leaks from the old pipe at all.

It remains to be seen whether the new City council will follow through on the route hearing, or just let Trans Mountain proceed -- across two school yards, through residential areas as little as 6 metres from homes, through wetlands and salmon habitat enhancement areas, and upstream of Yarrow Waterworks wells and the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve.

tm_sardis_elementary_area_550.jpgSardis Elementary, houses to west, and City wells.
Kinder Morgan Emergency manual for schools can be found here (pdf).

If the City does not proceed with the route hearing, the Highway 1 alternative will never have a chance to be heard. Of course residents are not going to just lay down while risk is added to, rather than removed from, so much that we hold dear. The mayor is just one voice in City government, and with Trans Mountain now a Crown corporation the relationship between Canadians and the proponent is different from what it was when the pipeline was owned by Kinder Morgan.

It’s not over till it’s over.


 

Special Donation Request

 

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The Fraser Watershed Restoration Conference 2019 was to bring together Indigenous leaders,
industry experts, government representatives, academics, community officials and conservationists
interested in advancing watershed restoration, and reconciliation with First Nations.

With a number of federal and BC government ministers on the speakers list, WaterWealth
planned to attend to ensure a grassroots community presence at this important
inaugural event of the Fraser Watershed Initiative. While the conference website
doesn't say so presently, we received word that the conference has been cancelled.

Response to the donation request to enable us to attend the conference has been very generous!
We are very grateful for and encouraged by the show of support that response represents. We will
confirm with the conference organizers whether the conference is truly cancelled or whether it might
be rescheduled. We will contact those who have donated toward this special request, to see about
their wishes for these donations, whether refund, or perhaps hold till a later date for the conference,
or put toward other programs. Of course should the reader feel moved to donate to support our work
aside from this conference, donations are always very gratefully received!

 

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