Local hand-wringing about the safety of Chilliwack’s aquifer from Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion project may have proven fruitful.
The National Energy Board (NEB) announced Thursday is has ordered a public hearing in the new year to consider local concerns over the proximity to the aquifer of a specific 1.8-kilometre stretch of the proposed route of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project (TMEX).
City hall, the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) and others, including The WaterWealth Project, have long lobbied both Trans Mountain and the NEB to find a route for the expanded pipeline that does not threaten the city’s water supply.
In the city’s most recent comment on the subject, Mayor Sharon Gaetz asked the NEB to deny the company’s proposed realignment of the expanded pipeline to run within the existing right-of-way. Specifically, the city wants the NEB to force Trans Mountain to reassess running the pipeline along the Trans Canada Highway (TCH) or in the BC Hydro ROW, the latter of which is what the NEB approved.
“The city does not accept the conclusion that the TCH route is inferior to the proposed realignment,” Gaetz wrote in the Aug. 14 letter.
She said the city operates eight wells within the Sardis-Vedder Aquifer, which supplies 95 per cent of the water for 80,000 people in Chilliwack. Four of those wells are “close enough to the existing pipeline route to be of concern.”
“The aquifer is a unique feature, with high quality of groundwater not available elsewhere in Chilliwack.”
These contacts with the NEB and the company come months after Trans Mountain essentially told residents the route is final.
“Trans Mountain determined the best routing option is to follow its existing right-of-way. Other route locations are no longer under consideration,” according to a flyer hand-delivered in January to homes near the pipeline.
But the NEB has not approved the company’s application to realign through this stretch in Sardis into what is the current ROW of the existing pipeline.
On Aug. 31, the NEB announced a public hearing is planned in Chilliwack in early 2018 to review Trans Mountain’s proposal to relocate the 1.8-kilometre stretch of pipeline of the previously approved general corridor.
There are six other proposed route variances along the entire route, all of which are minor and will not trigger hearings.
“After hearing from the public that there were concerns about the proposed Chilliwack Realignment, the NEB has decided to hold an oral hearing to hear those concerns and receive evidence,” NEB Chair and CEO Peter Watson said Thursday. “This will ensure the NEB has all the information it needs to make a decision in the public interest.”
And while Trans Mountain continues to say the pipeline construction timeline is set to begin in September, NEB Chief Environment Officer Dr. Rob Steedman said Thursday the company has a long way to go.
“There are so many things that need to happen,” Steedman told Black Press in a telephone interview.
Trans Mountain needs approved routing, the company needs to satisfy the NEB’s 98 pre-construction conditions, and the company also needs to received various permits from all three levels of government.
“They are working on it and as you can imagine they are quite motivated.”
Steedman said the focus of the Chilliwack hearing in the new year will be the route and whether it could go along the BC Hydro ROW, which is just to the north of the current ROW on the stretch in question.
BC Hydro engineers, however, have said that with the required separation needed, the new ROW would be quite close to backyards of homes. The company concluded from this that the original ROW is best.
“It comes down to the technical facts and the potential impacts on landowners in there and the best way to thread the needle through those various concerns,” Steedman said.
Applications to participate in the hearing in Chilliwack in 2018 are available now on the NEB’s website. The deadline to apply to participate is Sept. 21. Funding is also available to hearing participants. More information on the Participant Funding Program and how to access it can be found on the NEB’s website.
Also announced Aug. 31 by the NEB was the detailed route hearings set to begin in November and December for locations in Alberta. Hearings for B.C. segments will begin in 2018.