Fraser Valley farmers say they have had their soil contaminated, their fields flooded and been harassed by the operator of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. Now they want payback.
The allegations by members of the Collaborative Group of Landowners Affected by Pipelines (CGLAP) are contained in the group’s written submission to the National Energy Board (NEB), which will decide in the spring on whether to allow Kinder Morgan Canada to twin the pipeline, nearly tripling its capacity to 890,000 barrels of oil and other petroleum products per day.
The group, which comprises rural Fraser Valley property owners who control 79 pieces of land through which about 60 kilometres of the pipeline runs, told the NEB that the pipeline affects their ability to farm. And while the group said they are not opposed to the pipeline, they told the NEB that Kinder Morgan Canada should compensate them on an annual basis. They also asked the NEB to order Kinder Morgan to follow through on assurances to protect the quality of farmers’ land.
“CGLAP members and their ancestors have been dealing with inconvenience, and sometimes harassment, relating to the existing pipeline on their properties which Trans Mountain has been using for over 60 years,” the group said in its submission.
Peter Reus, the president of the group, said Kinder Morgan should realize the landowners “want to be partners with them.”
With the provincial government saying they won’t yet support the pipeline application, Reus said, “They need friends.”
The CGLAP submission includes several affidavits about the hardships the pipeline has imposed upon members.
One Abbotsford farmer, Ron Omichinski, said that in 2013, pipeline workers came to his property for a 42-day “integrity dig.” After smelling oil, Omichinski said he found oil-contaminated soil on a plastic tarp. He was later told that the oil was taken to a hazmat site in Chilliwack. Omichinski said he also had a hay mower destroyed after running over a metal sign that had been laid down in a field without notice.
Another farmer, Ian Cooke, said Kinder Morgan unilaterally decided to flood one of his fields nearly a decade ago. He said he returned home one day to find that water was being pumped by Kinder Morgan from a dike onto his property, forming a lake that he said covered about 20 acres on the back of his farm. He said he was later told by a Kinder Morgan representative that the company was repairing a valve and had decided to pump water onto his property because it had been declined permission to discharge it towards the Vedder River.
Pearl Singleton alleged that she had been “harassed” by Kinder Morgan helicopters flying over her property and scaring her animals. She said the flights took place daily for a period of time, and although they have been curtailed somewhat, they still happen once or twice a week. In her affidavit, Singleton said a Trans Mountain agent came to her home in 2012 to reach an agreement on access for surveying. She said the agent was “aggressive, and tried to belittle and bully” her.
The group also says Kinder Morgan has failed to adequately cover the costs its pipeline imposes on landowners. Farmer Phillip Graham said improper handling of his soils in 2001 hurt his crops for more than a decade, but that it wasn’t until 2014 that he received partial compensation for his losses.
The landowners asked the NEB to require Kinder Morgan to follow through on assurances that it will do its best to protect the quality of the soil on their land, mitigate the effects of the use of heavy machinery, and compensate farmers for any crop losses. The group also expressed worries that, once constructed, the pipeline would raise temperature levels in the area and impact growing conditions.
The group also asked the NEB to reconsider rules surrounding its “safety zone,” which extends 30 metres on either side of the 18-metre-wide right-of-way. The landowners say the zone, and a maze of rules dictating how land on it and the right-of-way can be used, imposes significant costs.
The group has been in negotiations with Kinder Morgan for some time, but the sticking point has been the CGLAP’s insistence on ongoing annual payments, instead of a one-time sum. In their submission, they suggest that compensation to landowners should “be fair, and even generous, because of the meager historical compensation which these landowners were given for the past 63 years’ use of their lands.”
CGLAP is asking for $2,500 per acre per year for the use of their land, plus a sum calculated on the amount of material being pumped along the pipeline, which will carry diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands. They suggest that the owner of a three-acre parcel of land crossed by a 500-metre stretch of pipeline should be entitled to an annual payment of just under $10,000. Under such a formula, Kinder Morgan would be required to pay out $258,420 every year to CGLAP members.
In discussions with other local landowners, the company has offered one-time compensation based on a percentage of the value of land, as well as the workspace needed. One property owner told The News he was offered around 60 per cent of the value of his land that would be included in the pipeline easement.
Asked to comment on the affidavits, the pipeline company emailed a statement that said, in part: “Trans Mountain works with landowners along its pipeline network with the goal of treating each landowner fairly and equitably.”
The statement continued: ”We take landowner concerns very seriously and make every effort to resolve misunderstandings and develop mutually acceptable solutions. We review all aspects of our operations on a regular basis and make changes and improvements as needed.”