NEB chair Peter Watson made a Chilliwack stop recently on a national engagement tour to answer questions about Kinder Morgan’s proposed TransMountain pipeline project.
The head of the National Energy Board sat down with Fraser Valley Regional District representatives, including FVRD chair Sharon Gaetz, on his extensive tour of communities all along the proposed pipeline route.
The goal was mapping out the unique role of the NEB with regard to energy sector infrastructure, and to hear any issues and concerns.
Watson, who started with the NEB last summer, was eager to engage stakeholders.
“One of the things I noticed was that our board could do a better job engaging with communities and local governments along the route,” he said.
The tour gave them that opportunity.
“One of the things that was actually an eye opener was that the NEB is not just there in the initial phases of the project, to show up and hold public hearings, but also we are right there for the whole life cycle of the project.”
They follow it from “construction to abandonment,” which could be 40 years into the future.
FVRD chair Sharon Gaetz said it was the first time anyone from the NEB ever reached out to the regional district.
“It was a great meeting,” she said.
Watson made it clear that the NEB does “far more” than decide the fate of pipeline projects, and their job includes monitoring and ensuring compliance.
It was surprising for Chair Gaetz to learn that the NEB has 450 employees, and are moving to Vancouver shortly to open a new office.
“The biggest message we left with them was that three things were very important to FVRD,” she said.
The first was emergency response plans, spill prevention, as well as mitigation and disaster planning.
“Some don’t seem to understand the complexity of the problem in smaller communities where there may be only volunteer fire depts, and may not have the sophistication, equipment or spill resolution, although they’ll be the first boots on the ground in the case of a spill,” said Gaetz.
The second concern of FVRD is air quality, and the third was biodiversity.
City of Chilliwack is not an intervenor in the NEB hearings about the pipeline.
“Since we are part of the regional district, we have a voice at the table,” she said.
Watson said reps from every municipality and local government he’s visited with to date have been asking lots of good questions, and they had very similar concerns from coast to coast.
“There are concerns about the project’s impacts on local waters or lands, and they want to know if anything goes wrong, there are effective plans in place.”
Sometimes there was an information gap.
“Mostly we had a good, frank exchange. We wanted them to know who we are and how to connect. We know they play a special role, as the first line of elected government in place.”
The more they talk to people on the road, the more they realized the NEB has to do a better job of communicating.
“We’re demystifying what we do.”
So far they’ve met with more than 100 officials, and the tour wraps up in June.