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Making the economic argument for supporting the Trans Mountain

Greg Toth, project manager with TransMountain Pipeline, addresses the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce on Thursday. - Jennifer Feinberg/ Progress
Greg Toth, project manager with TransMountain Pipeline, addresses the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.
— image credit: Jennifer Feinberg/ Progress

The message from Kinder Morgan to the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce was about "maximizing" potential from its proposed $5.4 billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The numbers — including estimated jobs, taxes and economic spinoffs — were rolled out Thursday in an upbeat lunchtime presentation at the Coast Chilliwack Hotel by Greg Toth, senior director for Trans Mountain Expansion Project.

Communities will act as "hubs" for the pipeline twinning project, but they need to prepare should the pipeline project be approved for construction in 2016.

"The one message I want them to take away is that we are working hard to maximize local opportunities," said Toth, after the luncheon.

"That is the vision of our president Ian Anderson, and that is the vision our project team is working toward."

Skilled jobs and other spinoffs are coming this way for communities who position themselves accordingly, he said.

The pipeline project would snake through through parts of the Fraser Valley, including parts of Chilliwack and Abbotsford, although the exact route has yet to be approved.

A facilities application to triple the size of the Trans Mountain pipeline is due to be filed with the National Energy Board on Dec. 16, after 18 months of public engagement.

That explains the timing of the talk at the Chilliwack Chamber luncheon.

"I think it's a great thing for Chilliwack," said Brian Brind, owner of a Husky station, while introducing Trans Mountain engineer Greg Toth to the luncheon crowd at the Coast Chilliwack Hotel Thursday.

Brind, a Hope truck stop owner, recounted how his bottom line increased 23 per cent, and the only cause he could attribute it to, was a job completed by a pipeline company in the area.

That's the kind of spinoff project officials are talking about.

But not everyone is convinced.

Earlier this month, activists in Chilliwack organized a 'Defend Our Climate, Defend our Communities' rally in front of MP Mark Strahl's office on Nov. 16, to oppose pipeline expansion and increased tar sands reliance in the face of climate change.

Route details are still being finalized, but they have many in Chilliwack concerned about it.

But at the same time, the ongoing preparation and consultation for the Trans Mountain facilities application has been exhaustive. There will be 28 binders for the NEB application document. It took 750 meetings, 42 public information sessions and 17 workshops to produce the application. The document in paper form will be seven feet long. It will cost a staggering $14,000 to print a single copy.

"So, we're going to limit the hard copies," Toth noted.

He also offered a range of estimates for jobs and taxes.

Tax revenues for City of Chilliwack could reach $1 million, and the peak work force for the Fraser Valley on the project is estimated at 220 workers locally, and 4,500 jobs for the entire project.

Workers could spend $11 million on food, accommodations and other services.

The expansion rationale fits into the larger economic argument that Canada needs to build its oil and gas infrastructure to connect supply with burgeoning demand in the international market.

"Lack of market access has cost Canada as much as $50 million a day," reads the headline on one of the handouts from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce about the Canadian oil and gas industry.

The top issue is discussions with Trans Mountain stakeholders, however, from Edmonton to Burnaby is always "pipeline safety," Toth pointed out.

If it goes ahead, existing capacity of the pipeline would go from 300,000 barrels a day to 890,000.

The existing pipeline has existed for 60 years, and the safety record of the last 30 years is "much better" than the first 30, mainly due to technological innovation.

"We run very sophisticated tools," he added.

Trans Mountain project have been on a tour of communities along the proposed route in recent weeks, offering similar presentations.

What's the most persistent misconception people still have about pipelines, Toth was asked after his talk.

"The biggest misconception is that bitumen is corrosive, and eats away at pipelines," he answered.

The online marketing reinforces the messages they were sharing in person: "We recognize that building and operating infrastructure such as pipelines impact many along the route, and we respect our neighbors and the communities where we operate," reads the info about the project. "We are proud of our extensive history, demonstrated commitment to safe and reliable operations, and relationships with all who are affected by our business."

The talks will continue, in this pre-application phase.

"So what do we have to do? Engagement and communication," said Toth, "And we have to do it early enough so communities have the lead time to get ready to maximize and take advantage of the opportunities."

More details at www.transmountain.com

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

Twitter.com/chwkjourno

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