The existing route of the Trans Mountain pipeline in Chilliwack runs through Vedder middle and Watson elementary (shown here) schoolyards. (Paul Henderson/ Progress file)

Chilliwack trustees divided on Trans Mountain pipeline route near two schools

School district will pen letter to NEB to ask for re-routing away from schools to be considered

Chilliwack’s school board trustees waded into a discussion on national politics and the safety of pipeline routes on Tuesday night.

They were considering a motion to write a letter to the National Energy Board, stating that they would support an alternate route for the Trans Mountain Pipeline away from Chilliwack’s schools. Both Vedder middle and Watson elementary are directly in the path of the twinning project.

By chance, the federal government had announced just hours earlier that they have re-approved the pipeline project.

READ MORE: B.C. First Nation plans to launch legal challenge after Trans Mountain approval

The motion was put forward by Trustee David Swankey, who reminded his colleagues that Tuesday’s announcement from the government “approves the project, it doesn’t approve the route.” There are many steps to come in the project, and one of those steps will be a continuation of re-routing hearings.

Swankey said that twinning the existing pipeline through the two school sites poses an”unnecessary and unreasonable risk” to students and staff.

“What this does is align ourselves to say, ‘where there is discussion around the diversion of the project, we support it, and we support it on the grounds that these pipelines should not be on our school grounds.’”

His motion eventually passed, but trustees Heather Maahs and Darrell Furgason were both opposed to sending off the missive.

“I think there’s a lot more things that we need to know before we write a letter,” Maahs said. “There’s a lot of information that we don’t have before we … write this letter. The existing pipelines have been there since 1947 without incident, so I’m just concerned that we are making statements and making requests about things that we really don’t understand.”

She said she does want kids to be safe, but wants more information about why the pipeline route is planned to twin through the current route.

Furgason said he is “sure that all sorts of considerations have been made by this company.”

“I don’t know that we ought to join a bandwagon, which is to holler about potential disasters,” he said. “There are groups already doing that across the country… ‘Don’t route through my native territory or my band territory,’ yet it’s going to happen because the federal government has the power to do this.”

Instead, he says the school district should support the project and “not to get in the way of development.”

“It’s been safe so far. There’s no reason to become paranoid.”

But Trustee Barry Neufeld pointed out that incidents do happen, and have an effect on those nearby.

“A few years ago a pipeline broke near Auguston school in Abbotsford (and there were) noxious fumes being released into the environment, not to mention considerable damage to the nearby land,” he said.

School was affected for days, he recalled, and the students were put at risk.

ARCHIVES: Citizens want more answers about pipeline

“I support this motion,” Neufeld said. “I think we need to speak primarily on behalf of school safety but I’ll just leave it at that,” he said.

Board chair Dan Coulter also supported the motion, saying that knowledge and industries have changed since the pipeline was built about 70 years ago, and they will continue to change.

“Just because it was put there in 1947 doesn’t mean it’s a great fit now,” Coulter said. “If they can re-route it, I don’t know what’s so objectionable about re-routing from underneath school grounds.”

It wouldn’t be the first time, he added.

“They re-routed to go around Nestle Waters, a corporation. Surely, they can take into consideration schools. It can happen.”

He asked trustees to think about potential impact on future generations.

“If anything happens, what are you going to say to your community?,” he asked. “Maybe this letter does nothing but are you going to say to your community, “ya we did nothing?”

The previous school board had discussed becoming an intervenor to the project, but eventually decided against it, Coulter said in question period.


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jpeters@theprogress.com

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Watson elementary school has a portion of the pipeline travelling through its northern edge.

Vedder middle school has a portion of the pipeline travelling through its backfield.

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