Trans Mountain benefits ‘not at all a bribe’ says spokesperson

WaterWealth went so far as to request that the NEB make null and void any benefit deals they've already inked with communities

WaterWealth Project wants the National Energy Board to ask Kinder Morgan to stop negotiating deals with communities along the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline route that hinge on a positive outcome.

WaterWealth Project wants the National Energy Board to ask Kinder Morgan to stop negotiating deals with communities along the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline route that hinge on a positive outcome.

WaterWealth Project wants the National Energy Board to ask Kinder Morgan to stop negotiating deals with communities along the proposed pipeline route that hinge on a positive outcome for the project, until a decision is made.

WaterWealth, an intervenor in the NEB hearings on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project, went so far as to request that the NEB void any deals that they have already inked.

“It just doesn’t feel right,” said Ian Stephen, interim spokesperson for WaterWealth. It also brings into question the NEB hearing process, he said, if these deals are being made while the process is ongoing.

They were happy to hear that City of Chilliwack turned down the offer to sign an MOU for $800,000 under the Community Benefits Program, noted Stephen.

“We will be interested to hear what if anything the NEB has to say about this, and wonder if they were aware of these deals being made with communities that have standing in the hearings.”

The $800,000 deal to offset the potential inconvenience of pipeline construction in Chilliwack, was turned down last month by Chilliwack city council.

All five members of council voted to defer signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU). The money would have helped pay for a $1 million pedestrian bridge project under the Community Benefit Program, but it is now deferred until after NEB comes out with its decision about twinning the 60-year-old pipeline.

Some labelled the benefits “a bribe,” while others questioned the timing of the offer before final routing is approved, and the idea that the Texas energy giant might leverage these approvals for its own gain.

At least four pipeline communities have been approached about signing MOUs to participate in Trans Mountain’s Community Benefits Program: City of Chilliwack, an NEB commenter, and three communities with intervenor status; District of Clearwater, District of Hope, and City of Kamloops.

The community benefits program is in no way in appropriate.

“No, it’s not at all a bribe,” countered Trans Mountain spokesperson Ali Hounsell. “It’s meant to trickle down to help the communities that will see disruptions.”

The funds forthcoming after cities sign the MOUs are to acknowledge local construction impacts and inconvenience, should the pipeline work be approved.

They’re “still hopeful” they can come to an agreement with City of Chilliwack, Hounsell pointed out. “It’s still on the table and we hope to come to an agreement that works for them ultimately.”

The original deadline was set for May 29.

Trans Mountain filed a response to the WaterWealth request to stop negotiating the deals, taking the position that there is precedent for this type of program, and ultimately it’s up to the NEB board.

It’s not a conflict to have these discussions, she underlined, nor is it in contravention with any procedures.

“They won’t be required to stop asking the tough questions, or holding our feet to the fire.

“The process allows for that continued dialogue. We’re building relationships with communities and we expected to be asked the tough questions, either inside the NEB process or outside of it,” said Hounsell.

Community benefit programs likes this are really in the “best interest” of the communities, she said. They formally recognize disruptions during pipeline construction. During the period of time when heavy equipment is in town during the pipeline expansion phase, they could also do some of the work on these community projects, she said.

That explains the timing, she said.

“That’s why we’re looking at having those negotiations now, and having the agreements ready,” she said.

“If we get the approval, we will still have ongoing discussions with the communities but we’ll be busy with construction. So now is the time to discuss it.”

Ultimately if the communities choose not to get on board, “that’s their choice.”

But of course the funds have to hinge on the project going ahead, she said.

“If there’s no construction, then there is no disruption either.”

WaterWealth was conducting a survey on the topic recently at http://www.waterwealthproject.com/km-survey

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

twitter.com/chwkjourno