Gary Weilinger

Gary Weilinger

Gas pipeline replacement faces delay, council hears

Spectra Energy is deadlocked with local farmers over a project to replace 2.4 km of natural gas pipeline under Chilliwack farmland.

Spectra Energy is deadlocked with local farmers over a project to replace 2.4 km of natural gas pipeline under Chilliwack farmland.

The mandatory replacement would put in a pipe with stronger walls to account for Chilliwack’s population growth since the pipe was first installed in 1957.

In a presentation to Chilliwack city council on Tuesday, Spectra’s vice-president of external affairs Gary Weilinger noted that replacement of the line under farmland may be pushed to 2014. The original plan was to start the replacement last month, and have it completed by this September.

The delay is entirely due to farmers who own land overtop the line. This includes Gord Mitchell, president of the Fraser Valley Association of Pipeline Landowners, and owner of the land used by the Sparkes Corn Barn.

Mitchell wants to renegotiate the original easement agreement that was signed in 1957 to include a clause that would immediately stop all work in case of rain, because operating heavy machinery on wet soil does tremendously more damage to the land. Mitchell also wants compensation for crop losses for all years following damage to cropland from Spectra’s machinery.

According to Weilinger, Spectra already has procedures in place for both points.

But to include them in a renegotiated easement agreement is not possible. First, because the company will not renegotiate existing rights-of-way, which Spectra believes supersede any developments that occurred on the land after the pipeline was installed. And second, because the company cannot agree to preconditions before doing assessments on the land.

“When we say an agreement, it’s effectively an easement or a right-of-way. And that’s something we can’t negotiate because we’ve got six thousand kilometres of right-of-way that are registered on title,” said Weilinger. “In that regard, we’re still quite a ways apart.”

At an impasse, a month ago Spectra Energy applied to the National Energy Board “for access to certain lands,” which would grant Spectra permission to enter Mitchell’s property for the pipeline replacement.

Farmers are attempting to block the application on the grounds that Spectra hasn’t followed proper procedures.

Mitchell has handed the matter over to his legal counsel and no longer communicates directly with Spectra Energy.

Both parties are waiting for a ruling from the National Energy Board.

Spectra Energy is nearly out of time to replace the pipe this year, because the company would need about three months of dry soil conditions.

Farmers are aware of the high risk of delaying upgrading a gas line, and support the work on principle. But they request that Spectra meet stringent conditions before doing work on their farmland. According to Mitchell, at least six of the eight affected farmland owners support Mitchell’s fight to renegotiation the current easement agreement.

The legal counsel is costing Mitchell.

“This has to be their cost, not ours. Why do we have to shoulder expenses for a multi-billion dollar company?” said Mitchell. “This is why we need contractual obligations from them.”

Meanwhile, plans to replace 600 metres under city land are proceeding without issue, and mayor Sharon Gaetz thanked the company multiple times at city council on Tuesday for their cooperation.

“We’re very pleased to be working together with Spectra,” said Gaetz. “Thank you for thinking of things like crops and when crops are grown, and for making sure that there will be compensation for farmers.”

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