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Trans Mountain advancing pipeline expansion without permission: City of Burnaby

Company says all ongoing work isapproved, but Mayor Mike Hurley isn't convinced
According to Trans Mountain, this photo incorrectly identifies road pylons as pipeline stanchions. (via Contributed)

Trans Mountain is going ahead with its pipeline expansion project without permission and should be stopped, according to the City of Burnaby.

The city’s lawyer, Gregory McDade, sent a letter to the National Energy Board on Dec. 21 accusing the company of “unpermitted activities related to the TMEP (Trans Mountain Expansion Project).”

But Trans Mountain maintains all work ongoing at the tank farm is related to permitted pipe relocation and decommission work – not the expansion project that was halted following a Federal Court of Appeal ruling in August, 2018. 

Mayor Mike Hurley told the NOW he wasn’t convinced Trans Mountain is playing by the rules.

“It seems to be that they're preparing for the pipeline to move ahead as planned,” he said. 

City demands NEB stop work

McDade’s letter includes aerial photos supposedly showing work being done adjacent to the proposed sites of two new oil tanks – part of the expansion project. 

“These pictures show what appear to be welding tents and pipeline sections laid out on the ground,” McDade wrote.

The photos also show the company clearing trees outside the scope of approved work, McDade said.

The city followed up its Dec. 21 letter with a correction on Dec. 28. Blaming “holiday staffing,” McDade said the initial filing referenced orders for the Westridge Line – the pipe carrying diluted bitumen from the tank farm to the Westridge Marine Terminal – when it should have addressed orders for piping relocation and decommissioning. 

The thrust of the letter – that the NEB must stop Trans Mountain’s unpermitted work – remained the same.

Trans Mountain refutes city claims

Trans Mountain’s regulatory and compliance vice-president, Scott Stoness, filed a response to the NEB on New Year’s Eve.

“Trans Mountain strongly disagrees with any suggestion that it is engaged in unpermitted activities at the Burnaby Terminal,” he wrote. 

He said all ongoing work falls under two standing orders issued by the NEB in 2017 and 2018.

Stoness goes on the counter several of the claims made by Burnaby about the content of the submitted photos. 

aeriel photo tank farm farm The City of Burnaby's city manager says photos it submitted to the National Energy Board were not taken by city staff. (via Contributed)

The photo showing the sites of two proposed tanks incorrectly labels an existing tank as Tank 72, when it is actually Tank 74, he wrote. While the photo correctly identifies the sites of two proposed tanks, Stoness said it shows no evidence of work being done to build those tanks.

“At each of the proposed tank sites, there are excavation materials placed there from work under the orders,” Stoness wrote. “Other than the storage of excavation materials related to the orders, there are no other construction activities occurring.”

A second photo from the city includes arrows to objects in the ground arranged in a straight line, with a label questioning whether they are “stanchions marking pipeline route?”

But the city is wrong again, according to Stoness.

“The ‘stanchions’ pointed out are merely temporary pylons being used to delineate the road surface edge,” he wrote.

He said the same photo correctly identifies a welding tent, but it’s there to work on the relocation of the Suncor Delivery Line – which is approved.

The photos of felled trees also show permitted work, according to Stoness

“In summary,” he wrote, “Burnaby’s allegations that Trans Mountain is engaged in unpermitted activities are unfounded.” 

Stoness also questioned the origin of the photos, seemingly under the impression they were taken by a drone. He pointed out that regulations prohibit flying a drone close to an industrial facility.

“Should Trans Mountain become aware of any violations with respect to the Burnaby Terminal, Trans Mountain will report such violations to the appropriate authorities,” he wrote.

According to McDade’s letter, the photos were taken on Nov. 24 and “received by the City of Burnaby” on Dec. 21. City manager Lambert Chu told the NOW the photos were not taken by the city. “They were provided to the city by members of the public,” he wrote in an email.

No ruling yet from NEB

The NEB has received the letters and “the matter is currently under consideration by the board,” according to spokesperson James Stevenson.

The two standing orders under which Trans Mountain is currently working have also been challenged by the city. The board has received submissions from both sides and is currently deliberating on whether to quash those approvals, Stevenson said.

“The NEB is considering all the correspondence it has received and is expected to respond in the near future,” he said.

Meanwhile, the NEB is working towards a Feb. 22 deadline to report on the impact the TMEP would have on orcas. Part of the Federal Court of Appeal’s reason for quashing approval of the project was based on its finding that the board failed to adequately consider the issue.

– Kelvin Gawley, Burnaby Now