Abbotsford opponents to the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline say the federal government’s plan to purchase the project and take over construction does not change their position.
Meanwhile, Mayor Henry Braun expressed hope the move would increase investor confidence and help complete a project he believes is in the national interest.
Lynn Perrin, a local anti-pipeline activist with Pipe Up, says she wasn’t surprised by the decision but she was nonetheless disappointed.
“Buying this leaky old pipeline is like going to a casino and gambling your children’s education fund,” she said.
Federal finance minister Bill Morneau announced Tuesday his government’s plan to spend $4.5 billion to buy the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries diluted bitumen from Alberta to Burnaby. Work to expand the project will now resume, while Kinder Morgan will help the federal government to try to find a new buyer for the pipeline.
Braun, said last month that delays in getting the pipeline built were threatening the provincial economy, said he was happy with the move and that it is a step to “restore confidence in our country as a place to invest.”
He said city staff will be trying to grasp the implications of the move on Abbotsford itself over the next week. More pipeline runs through Abbotsford than any other B.C. jurisdiction, with around 30 kilometres of pipe stretching the length of the city’s limits.
Abbotsford is also home to a tank farm on Sumas Mountain, and Kinder Morgan is one of the city’s largest taxpayers. Two years ago, the city signed a $1.3 million deal that would see Kinder Morgan contribute towards a new clubhouse at Ledgeview Golf Course, below which the pipeline runs.
Braun said it’s too early to say yet whether the federal government’s purchase of the pipeline will impact the Kinder Morgan deal.
But the new strategy changes little for some of the people most impacted, according to people who live close to the Sumas Mountain tank farm.
Sumas First Nation Chief Dalton Silver said his community remains fiercely opposed to the existing tank farm in their territory, let alone the proposed expansion.
“If I was to talk to [Kinder Morgan] about their expansion proposal, I could be lynched right at home by my own community,” he said.
Silver said his priority is the protection of drinking water and that he has not been adequately assured it wouldn’t be put at risk if the expansion went ahead.
He said he understands why other First Nations, such as Cheam, have entered into mutual benefit agreements with the corporation but that simply won’t work for the Sumas people.
Barbara Guard lives on Sumas Mountain near Kinder Morgan’s tank farm. She says three pipelines run through her land to the facility and she has had numerous unresolved issues with the company since she moved there in 2010.
“They (contractors) trespass on my property, they damaged 232 trees, they’ve denied damages. I’ve been in a fight with them for five years for the destruction of my property. They’ve impacted my creek; I don’t have potable water anymore.”
She doesn’t expect to see a change in the same environmental regulations that she says has failed to protect her property.
The deal also didn’t alleviate the concerns of Coun. Patricia Ross, who has been an outspoken critic of Kinder Morgan and cast the lone vote against the city’s 2016 deal with Kinder Morgan.
Ross said Tuesday that she harbours doubts about the pipeline’s economic viability, and worried that the federal government would be on the hook for huge cleanup costs in case of a major spill.
While the feds say they intend to sell the pipeline to another company, Ross expressed doubts as to whether that would, in fact, ever happen.
She said she “could only hope” that the federal government will diligently monitor and maintain the pipeline to prevent a future spill.