Coquitlam is “powerless” to stop Trans Mountain from using a regional park as a staging area and digging under city roads in a new pipeline project, says the city’s mayor.
In the coming weeks, work is expected to start on pipe that will run under Rogers Avenue and United Boulevard. Colony Farm Regional Park will be used as a staging area for a Fraser River pipeline crossing that will bring the Trans Mountain pipeline from Surrey through to Burnaby.
And while the city sought a route change and more compensation for construction work, Richard Stewart said all he can do now is watch carefully and hope the city’s concerns will be dealt with fairly.
“Systems are set up with a regulator that effectively works for industry, and so local government and regional government are completely powerless often to challenge the decision of these regulators, whose terms — whose mandate — includes national interests but not the interest of the local government that it goes through,” Stewart told the Tri-City News this week.
As Trans Mountain begins to set the stage for construction through Coquitlam in 2021, Stewart said the job of local governments will be to “try to manage and mitigate as much as possible to limit the impact of the construction and the finished pipeline on our community,” Stewart said.
Now owned by the federal government, the $12.6 billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project is slowly making its way from Alberta to the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, and is expected to land in Coquitlam as soon as February.
PARK AS STAGING AREA
A number of construction sites are being established in the city and while the project was halted Dec. 18 while the company reviewed its safety measures, work is expected to start up on a staggered basis as soon as safety plans are approved, according to Trans Mountain.
Beginning in February, workers will start to install a pipeline using a horizontal directional drilling (HDD) method in the Fraser River — a project that requires Trans Mountain to utilize 11 acres of the Colony Farm Regional Park to stage sections of pipe.
While no digging will take place in the park, a group of naturalists and environmentalists with the Burke Mountain Naturalists and the Colony Farm Park Association has opposed the use of the park and has started a petition at change.org which has garnered backing from more than 10,000 people.
“Colony Farm was specifically protected to keep the lands in public ownership, to keep the lands open and accessible to the public, to preserve the agricultural capability of the land, to provide opportunities for public recreation and to protect wildlife habitat and enhance its biodiversity,” the petition states as it calls for a reversal of the decision.
And while Trans Mountain maintains that it will protect the environmental integrity of the park, and will commit $1.4 million in community benefits for ”protection, mitigation, remediation, and improvements,” Mayor Richard Stewart questions how old field habitat can be maintained once it’s been disturbed.
OLD FIELD DISTURBED
“I think they will leave it in an acceptable condition and we’ll hold them to that. But keeping in mind it isn’t possible to restore an old field, the value of an old field is it has evolved in a very random way over decades and to try to plant random after you disturbed it [is not possible], it will be affected,” Stewart said.
Trans Mountain will require use of the park for about three months, according to a construction schedule, and Stewart said the Surrey side couldn’t be used for staging because of railway tracks.
Still the federally-owned company says it will be careful when utilizing the area and place signage to let people know when trails on the park’s western edge can’t be used.
“Trans Mountain will leave no infrastructure within the park when its temporary use of the space is complete. All work will be completed according to approved environmental protection plans and overseen by qualified environmental professionals,” a Trans Mountain media spokesperson stated in an email.
Plans are to begin work installing pipe along Rogers Avenue in an industrial area of the city later this month and in March on United Boulevard, where furniture stores, Home Depot and the Coquitlam transfer station are located.
According to an official from Trans Mountain, construction on United Boulevard will occupy the northern half of the roadway; along the southern half, one lane will be opened in each direction. Drivers can expect signage as lanes are redirected for traffic.
Meanwhile, a number of construction sites are being established in the city to permit the Trans Mountain work, including a Glacier Street construction yard, a Fraser Mills construction yard, a Golden Drive construction yard and a parking area on Kwikwetlem First Nation land in Port Coquitlam.
According to the construction dates and timelines, work in Coquitlam is supposed to take place through to December 2022.
The Canadian federal government purchased the pipeline for $4.4 billion but indicated it intends to sell it eventually.
Coquitlam is receiving $1 million from Trans Mountain as compensation, however, the city maintains it should receive additional compensation for hosting the existing pipeline for 60 years as well as for expected maintenance required for city roads when the new pipeline is installed.
Stewart maintains the city is being forced to accommodate a pipe along a route that is critical for city infrastructure, including utilities, sewer and water and requires that future work on the road will need Trans Mountain approval, which is time consuming and costly.
“We had said no to the route they had chosen right down our only south-of-the tracks, east-west arterial,’ Stewart said, “It’s the only continuous road we could put utilities in.”
But when the city challenged the route, it lost in a National Energy Board (now the Canadian Energy Regulator) decision, rendering the city powerless to stop construction in the area, Stewart said.
“We know what happens when we challenge; the regulator will decide on what’s easiest to get the pipeline built without regard to the impact on public and private property owners.”
Similar concerns have been raised with Fortis in a court decision the city is appealing, Stewart said, because it’s not fair that taxpayers should foot the bill for problems utilities leave behind.
“With municipal land, there is no compensation,” Stewart said. “There is simply expropriation for the available space under the road without regard to what we need it for.”
While drivers will have to skirt construction on United Boulevard and Colony Park visitors will have to make way for pipeline construction staging, Coquitlam will be monitoring the Trans Mountain project, Stewart said, adding that he hopes senior governments put more time and thought into how local taxpayers should be compensated for projects completed in the national interest.