Chilliwack, NDP hold off pipeline judgment

Chilliwack city council will wait before taking stand on Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion plan

Unlike Vancouver, Chilliwack’s city council is taking a wait-and-see stance to the proposed twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

“From Chilliwack’s perspective, Kinder Morgan has been a stellar corporate partner,” Mayor Sharon Gaetz said.

“I really think like every corporation that has been a good citizen, they have a right to be heard, and then we (council) have the right to make an informed decision,” she said.

Gaetz met earlier this month with Kinder Morgan president Ian Anderson, and came away confident the city’s concerns about the potential impact to municipal dikes and water supply would be thoroughly addressed by the company.

But Vancouver city councillors, voicing “strenuous opposition” to the increase in tanker traffic that will result if Kinder Morgan’s pipeline capacity is doubled, passed a motion calling for a bylaw that would hold the company liable for any damages from an oil spill.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robinson said in a published statement that he is “fiercely opposed” to the pipeline that will bring “nearly no jobs” to the city, and “put Vancouver’s thriving economy and global reputation at such serious risk.”

The Vancouver Park board has also voted against the pipeline expansion.

And while the BC NDP is officially opposed to the Enbridge pipeline that would carry Alberta oil across the province to Kitimat B.C., Chilliwack-Hope MLA Gwen O’Mahony said the party has not taken a similar position on the Kinder Morgan proposal.

The difference is the Enbridge proposal is “further along” the road to construction, she said, while the Kinder Morgan pipeline is still in the early planning stage.

“We’re waiting to see what the (Kinder Morgan) proposal is before we release any kind of a statement,” she said.

But O’Mahony added that the Kinder Morgan pipeline still deserves “a good, hard look” and she will be meeting with opponents of the twinning project to hear their concerns.

“Both pipeline projects are to be taken very seriously,” she said.

Sheila Muxlow, who has been organizing Fraser Valley opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline, said she is “frustrated” by the wait-and-see approach taken by the NDP and the City of Chilliwack.

“It’s frustrating that there isn’t more of a commitment to really oppose Kinder Morgan from the get-go,” she said.

Both pipelines are linked to the “devastating” tar sands industry, she said, and the Kinder Morgan project carries “the same risk” to Fraser Valley communities as Enbridge does in northern B.C.

But former FVRD chair Patricia Ross, an environmental advocate who led the Fraser Valley’s fight against the Sumas II energy plant, agreed with the city’s decision to wait until the full Kinder Morgan plan is unveiled before judging its merits.

“I’m not bothered by Chilliwack not taking a position yet,” she said. “You have a lot more credibility when you’ve got the details … and can critique it on a very specific basis.”

However, Ross, who is also a city councillor in Abbotsford, noted that municipality and the FVRD have both sent letters to Kinder Morgan highlighting concerns which will require “consultation at the highest level” by the company.

“If you don’t say anything, it doesn’t necessarily require the same level of heightened consultation,” she said.

Consultation is otherwise a “subjective” thing, she said, as the FVRD discovered in its dealings with Metro Vancouver around waste-to-energy incinerators.

Chilliwack city council has not yet discussed sending a similar letter to Kinder Morgan.

FVRD concerns about the pipeline include the numerous streams it must cross and its impact on rare and endangered animal species in the region.

Air quality from the expected increase in oil tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet is also major a concern.

An FVRD staff report in 2009 predicted that marine vessels would become the “dominant” source of nitrous oxides in the Fraser Valley by 2015. Sulphur oxides, which help create acid rain, were also expected to increase “significantly” with increased shipping activity.

An international effort to reduce marine emissions by creating Emission Control Areas (ECAs) started soon after publication of emission inventories in 2005, but an update from Transport Canada officials was not immediately available.

Chilliwack MLA John Les said initiatives like requiring cruise ships to use electricity at dockside instead of running diesel engines is reducing emissions that impact the Fraser Valley’s unique airshed.

“All kinds of initiatives like that are starting to take hold,” he said.

Les agreed it makes sense to wait until the Kinder Morgan plan is tested under the environmental review process before making judgments.

“I think it’s appropriate to keep an open mind that doesn’t preclude taking a position in favor or against,” he said. “I think we have to be totally balanced and not jump to conclusions that might prove false or embarrassing in the long term.”

The pipeline has operated in Chilliwack since 1953 without an incident, a track record that Les and Gaetz expect will continue.

“I would expect that would continue with any twinning of the pipeline,” Les said.

Gaetz said city concerns about the impact of the pipeline on Fraser River dikes and the city’s underground aquifer were “flagged” at the meeting with the Kinder Morgan president.

She said the company is required to complete a detailed environmental impact report to the National Energy Board, “which will include an assessment of risks and alternatives such as potential re-routing of the new line.”

“We will be monitoring the process to make sure that protection of the aquifer is included in the evaluation,” she said.

The Kinder Morgan pipeline, officially named the Trans Mountain pipeline, crosses several streams in the Fraser Valley region, and touches 568 land parcels on its 146-kilometre route through the region, according to an FVRD report.

Gaetz said the city collects $662,000 in taxes annually from Kinder Morgan – which saves taxpayers from about a one per cent tax hike “and really helps our infrastructure.”

The FVRD collected a total $348,687 in taxes from Kinder Morgan in 2011.