With the fate of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion (TMX) project at the very least uncertain, the local fight against routing the flow of more oil so close to Chilliwack drinking water source may now be moot.
But for one of the fiercest advocates of protecting the city’s aquifer, WaterWealth Project campaign director Ian Stephen, the irony is that if the project is killed, that may make it harder to deal with his hope to move the existing 65-year-old oil pipeline.
“For us here in Chilliwack, we still have this antique pipeline sitting on top of our aquifer,” Stephen said Thursday after the announcement of the unanimous decision by the Federal Court of Appeal overturning the Trudeau government’s approval of the pipeline twinning project.
“My fear with the old pipeline was they were needing repairs and they were waiting for the new construction. But those repairs will still have to happen.”
Stephen said he was actually surprised by the decision Thursday, but maybe because his head was down focusing on presentations to the NEB for the detailed route hearings expected to begin in September. He was unclear immediately if those hearings will still go ahead or be quashed long with Ottawa’s approval.
“It’s disappointing that we don’t get the opportunity to change the route,” Stephen said. “That’s an old pipeline to be sitting right next to the city wells.”
The case decided Thursday involved a number of First Nations opposed to the project, including the Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish, who argued the NEB review was flawed and could not serve as a basis for the federal government to approve it.
In a live-streamed press conference soon after the unanimous decision came down, Dustin Rivers speaking on behalf of the Squamish Nation council, cheered the court victory.
“Today we won in court against this project,” Rivers said. “The process was flawed. The consultation was inadequate. The Trudeau government did not respect our rights as a people and we won today, the courts agreed with every step of that argument.”
City of Chilliwack Coun. Jason Lum who has been a vocal advocate for the aquifer, and a critic of the process for TMX, said he didn’t want to say “I told you so” but, well, he’s said all along that consultation is not a one-way street.
Lum, who spoke to The Progress while on vacation and after reading the court’s decision, pointed to a particular section under the subhead “The experience of Sto:lo” that outlined criticism from local First Nations about how consultation means more than simply gathering information on aboriginal interests.
“[A] simple ‘what we heard’ report is inadequate to this task and the Governor-in-Council must be aware of its obligation to either reject or make changes to the project to protect and preserve the aboriginal rights, title and interests of the Sto:lo Collective,” the court stated, quoting from a Sto:lo submission.
Representing local Sto:lo interests, the S’ólh Téméxw Stewardship Alliance, were intervenors in January during the National Energy Board (NEB) hearings regarding detailed routing through the residential area of Sardis where the pipeline runs through Watson elementary schoolyard, dozens of residential backyards and is within the capture zone of the city’s drinking water wells.
Stephen of WaterWealth and the City of Chilliwack were also intervenors.
After the NEB hearings, the board approved Trans Mountain’s application to build the expansion in the original right-of-way. Critics called the hearings rigged since the alternative approved route, in the BC Hydro right-of-way, was never a possibility according to BC Hydro.
And the city was not happy.
“I was disappointed to learn of the National Energy Board’s decision to approve the Kinder Morgan route realignment in Chilliwack, especially given the probability that oil from a leak could make its way to our water wells,” Mayor Sharon Gaetz said in April when the routing decision was made.
This week, Lum said the process by which an intervenor must come to the NEB with opposition to a route and then provide a detailed alternative is simply “unacceptable.”
“We are not building the project,” Lum said. “If we have concerns, very real concerns, about the aquifer and the affect on drinking water then its incumbent on the propent that those concerns are addressed adequately.”
Just minutes after quashing the federal government’s approval, Kinder Morgan shareholders voted overwhelmingly to agree to see the pipeline for $4.5 billion to Ottawa.
The court decision does not necessarily kill the project, firstly because the government could appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, but secondly because the decision did not order TMX to start from scratch with consultation, but rather ordered a new review the justices suggested could be kept short and would include restarting consultation with Indigenous groups.