Trans Moun­tain pipe­line ex­pan­sion still faces hur­dles

Medicine Hat News - - FRONT PAGE -

VAN­COU­VER Bar­bara Gard calls her three­hectare prop­erty, nes­tled be­low the forested peak of Su­mas Moun­tain, a “minia­ture Stan­ley Park.” Its lush trees and flow­ing creek re­minded her of Van­cou­ver’s ma­jes­tic park, and she im­me­di­ately knew she wanted to call it home.

But she said her peace­ful re­treat in Ab­bots­ford, B.C., now feels more like a night­mare. Gard is among thou­sands of landown­ers along the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line ex­pan­sion route who have not yet granted the Crown cor­po­ra­tion ac­cess, and she said her deal­ings with the project’s own­ers over the years have shat­tered her men­tal health.

“It’s caused me emo­tional dev­as­ta­tion,” said Gard, a 64-year-old school psy­chol­o­gist on med­i­cal leave from work. “They are killing me through stress and le­gal fees.”

Nu­mer­ous hur­dles re­main be­fore sig­nif­i­cant con­struc­tion can be­gin on the mas­sive project. Trans Moun­tain Corp. has not signed agree­ments with 33 per cent of landown­ers, no part of the de­tailed route has been ap­proved, about half of the nec­es­sary per­mits are out­stand­ing and it must meet dozens of con­di­tions with the Canada En­ergy Reg­u­la­tor, for­merly the Na­tional En­ergy Board.

Fur­ther, it faces re­sis­tance in south­west B.C., where landown­ers are dig­ging in their heels, In­dige­nous groups are fil­ing le­gal chal­lenges and pro­test­ers are plan­ning to ramp up ac­tiv­ity.

The fed­eral Lib­eral gov­ern­ment bought the pipe­line for $4.5 bil­lion last year. The par­lia­men­tary bud­get of­fi­cer has said that if the ex­pan­sion is not com­plete by the end of 2021, it would be fair to con­clude the gov­ern­ment over­paid for the as­set.

The gov­ern­ment now says the ex­panded pipe­line will be op­er­a­tional by mid-2022.

“If all goes ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment’s plan and hopes, then that is a re­al­is­tic time­line,” said David Wright, an as­sis­tant law pro­fes­sor with the Univer­sity of Cal­gary. “But there’s the sig­nif­i­cant caveat that not a lot has gone as hoped or planned from the gov­ern­ment’s per­spec­tive in the last cou­ple years.”

The Fi­nance Depart­ment dis­agreed with the par­lia­men­tary bud­get of­fi­cer’s con­clu­sion that con­struc­tion de­lays would re­duce the value of the project and mean the gov­ern­ment had over­paid.

“The gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to con­sider its in­vest­ment in the Trans Moun­tain en­ti­ties to be a sound in­vest­ment,” it said, adding con­struc­tion was pro­ceed­ing “as quickly as pos­si­ble.”

There are more than 2,500 tracts of pri­vate, Crown or In­dige­nous land to which Trans Moun­tain must gain ac­cess to build the ex­pan­sion. As of July, some 1,730 — or 67 per cent — of own­ers had signed agree­ments grant­ing the cor­po­ra­tion en­try.

Eighty-three per cent of landown­ers in Al­berta and east­ern B.C. have signed, but in the B.C. In­te­rior and Fraser Val­ley, that num­ber drops to 54 per cent. In the Lower Main­land, just 14 per cent of landown­ers have signed agree­ments.

The cur­rent Trans Moun­tain pipe­line al­ready runs through Gard’s prop­erty. Her frus­tra­tion with the pipe­line’s own­ers be­gan in 2011, when she al­leges work­ers sheared some 232 trees on her land, 80 of which they cut down en­tirely. The cor­po­ra­tion de­nied any wrong­do­ing and the de­bate over the dam­age has dragged on for eight years, she said.

Gard said the cor­po­ra­tion has not of­fered her fair com­pen­sa­tion for the risk that the ex­pan­sion poses to her prop­erty’s del­i­cate ecosys­tem or has it ex­plained how it will re­store veg­e­ta­tion and pro­tect wildlife. The process feels ex­tremely un­bal­anced, where she’s fac­ing off against the cor­po­ra­tion’s trained ne­go­tia­tors and le­gal team, she added.

Robin Scory, another landowner in the Fraser Val­ley who has not yet signed an agree­ment, said that the pipe­line’s own­ers have of­fered him “low­ball” sums that are only a frac­tion of the prop­erty’s value. Streams on his land run di­rectly into the Fraser River and the cor­po­ra­tion has not ex­plained how it would mit­i­gate the im­pacts of a spill, he said.

“It’s a dis­as­ter wait­ing to hap­pen. I’m not against the pipe­line and I’m not a ‘pay me mil­lions of dol­lars’ kind of guy, but it’s just so badly run,” Scory said.

CP PHOTO JONATHAN HAY­WARD

Bar­bara Gard is pic­tured on her land which runs along the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line and is where con­struc­tion will take place for the ex­pan­sion, tak­ing away graz­ing land for her goats and other live­stock in Ab­bots­ford.

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