Council dove into the discussion Tuesday about whether to accept $1.2 million from Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project to build a pedestrian bridge over the Vedder River.
At issue was if signing the agreement implied support for the proposed pipeline expansion.
In the end Council voted 6-1 in favour of signing the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to secure the Community Benefits funding that will only materialize if the pipeline gets built.
Coun. Jason Lum said he was “uncomfortable” and voted against.
He tried a couple of times before the final vote to amend the motion.
“I keep having trouble with this,” Lum said, adding he probably couldn’t be convinced to vote in favour.
Lum tried to get council to defer the matter until the final cabinet decision was in. He also tried to change the language so that signing the agreement “in no way implies support” for the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.
Both amendments failed — one for a lack of seconder, and the other failed in a vote.
Council ultimately approved the staff recommendation, which was to have council proceed with signing of the MOU between City of Chilliwack and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline L.P. for the $1.2 million for the Vedder Greenway Pedestrian Trail Bridge project.
Coun. Lum balked at the idea of signing, now especially, given that final approval is is expected in December.
“Given that language, which was mutually non-binding, why formalize this through an MOU?” Lum asked.
Director of Operations Glen Macpherson responded that in the wake of discussions with KM officials, it was made clear that signing at this point, would “secure” the $1.2 million in funding for Chilliwack.
“If we wait for federal approval, there’s no guarantee,” he said.
“Again the problem I have with this is that these projects are meant to offset disruptions,” said Lum. “There is either going to be impacts or disruptions, or not. The money should be there regardless.”
Council had discussed adding language to the MOU, about how signing and accepting cash “did not” indicate outright support.
“We talked about that prior to the NEB decision,” Mayor Sharon Gaetz pointed out.
Now that the conditional approval has been given, she said she’s “not sure” that it should become a part of the MOU.
“I think we have to be clear that accepting this money has nothing to do with their proposed pipeline expansion,” said Coun. Lum. “I have a hard time separating the two.”
Coun. Sam Waddington said he found the issue “challenging” and that perhaps the “optics were bad” but he didn’t think that signing would give KM any “sort of tool” in terms of leverage.
If the pipeline project goes through, at least Chilliwack will have a beautiful bridge over the Vedder, he reasoned. And to boot Chilliwack has voiced its concerns already, Coun. Waddington said, adding the city is already “so far outside the conversation” on the pipeline anyway.
Not signing would mean “cutting off your nose to spite your face,” according to Coun. Sue Attrill.
Coun. Chris Kloot said time was of the essence in terms of signing the MOU to “tap into” the offer, and it would be prudent to do so.
Coun. Ken Popove sees the benefit the bridge will offer for “generations to come” and since the pipeline work will be disruptive, he didn’t see a problem with signing.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz said she worried that adding that extra language to the MOU could be the “breaking point,” but she said she also is sure that KM will hear Coun. Lum’s message loud and clear.
“I think council has made it abundantly clear there are mixed feelings about the pipeline, and we have people in our community who also feel the same way,” the mayor said.
Council has worked “very hard” with KM to come, and won’t be relegated to the sideline role of “cheerleaders.”
“We made our point to Kinder Morgan, and I think we made it well,” she said.
City of Chilliwack chose to be a “commenter” rather than an “intervenor” in the National Energy Board hearings on the pipeline project, leaving the intervenor role to the Fraser Valley Regional District. But it did emphasize the utter importance of protecting the Sardis-Vedder aquifer from contamination for example.
That emphasis also came up in the TMX panel meeting in Chilliwack
Coun. Lum clarified that he didn’t want his statements to be misconstrued, as either pro or against the pipeline project.
“Our job here is to continue to ask the difficult questions,” he said, and also admitted he’d prefer to see the bridge project paid for “through taxation.”
“In any case I believe that if the expansion project goes forward, the proponent will be morally required to provide benefits to the City of Chilliwack to offset the impacts.”
Coun. Chuck Stam acknowledged the whole issue meant having “uncomfortable conversations at times.”
Nonetheless he was glad to see KM fully funding the pedestrian bridge, going from $800,000 to $1.2 million, for a project that will leave a legacy.
Back in May, when they first discussed it, council unanimously turned down a $800,000 for the same project. Council opted not to rush into signing the MOU with KM for the bridge project at the time — at least not while the National Energy Board was deciding the fate of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. Some called the offer a “bribe” at the time, while others criticized the timing as questionable.
The pipeline proposal sees Kinder Morgan hoping to be given a green light to triple capacity by twinning the existing 60-year-old Trans Mountain pipeline, stretching from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, B.C. with a $5.4 billion pricetag.
The pipeline route, to transport diluted bitumen, which is a sour type of crude oil mixed with dilutants, snakes through the Fraser Valley, and Chilliwack, with one of the biggest concerns raised locally is any potential for contaminating the underground aquifer, Chilliwack’s drinking water source.