Thousands of landowners on Trans Mountain pipeline route have yet to grant access

Such access is one of many hurdles that continue to delay construction of the expansion

Barbara Gard on her land which runs along the Trans Mountain pipeline and is where construction will take place for the expansion taking away grazing land for her goats and other livestock in Abbotsford, on Tuesday, September, 10, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Barbara Gard calls her three-hectare property, nestled below the forested peak of Sumas Mountain, a “miniature Stanley Park.” Its lush trees and flowing creek reminded her of Vancouver’s majestic park, and she immediately knew she wanted to call it home.

But she said her peaceful retreat in Abbotsford now feels more like a nightmare. Gard is among thousands of landowners along the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion route who have not yet granted the Crown corporation access, and she said her dealings with the project’s owners over the years have shattered her mental health.

“It’s caused me emotional devastation,” said Gard, a 64-year-old school psychologist on medical leave from work. “They are killing me through stress and legal fees.”

Numerous hurdles remain before significant construction can begin on the massive project. Trans Mountain Corp. has not signed agreements with 33 per cent of landowners, no part of the detailed route has been approved, about half of the necessary permits are outstanding and it must meet dozens of conditions with the Canada Energy Regulator, formerly the National Energy Board.

Further, it faces resistance in southwest B.C., where landowners are digging in their heels, Indigenous groups are filing legal challenges and protesters are planning to ramp up activity.

The federal Liberal government bought the pipeline for $4.5 billion last year. The parliamentary budget officer has said that if the expansion is not complete by the end of 2021, it would be fair to conclude the government overpaid for the asset.

The government said the expanded pipeline will now be operational by mid-2022.

“If all goes according to the government’s plan and hopes, then that is a realistic timeline,” said David Wright, an assistant law professor with the University of Calgary. “But there’s the significant caveat that not a lot has gone as hoped or planned from the government’s perspective in the last couple years.”

There are more than 2,500 tracts of private, Crown or Indigenous land to which Trans Mountain must gain access to build the expansion. As of July, some 1,730 — or 67 per cent — of owners had signed agreements granting the corporation entry.

RELATED: Trans Mountain pipeline route approved through Chilliwack residential area, school yard

Eighty-three per cent of landowners in Alberta and eastern B.C. have signed, but in the B.C. Interior and Fraser Valley, that number drops to 54 per cent. In the Lower Mainland, just 14 per cent of landowners have signed agreements.

The current Trans Mountain pipeline already runs through Gard’s property. Her frustration with the pipeline’s owners began in 2011, when she alleges workers sheared some 232 trees on her land, 80 of which they cut down entirely. The corporation denied any wrongdoing and the debate over the damage has dragged on for eight years, she said.

Gard said the corporation has not offered her fair compensation for the risk that the expansion poses to her property’s delicate ecosystem or has it explained how it will restore vegetation and protect wildlife. The process feels extremely unbalanced, where she’s facing off against the corporation’s trained negotiators and legal team, she added.

Robin Scory, another landowner in the Fraser Valley who has not yet signed an agreement, said that the pipeline’s owners have offered him “lowball” sums that are only a fraction of the property’s value. Streams on his land run directly into the Fraser River and the corporation has not explained how it would mitigate the impacts of a spill, he said.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen. I’m not against the pipeline and I’m not a ‘pay me millions of dollars’ kind of guy, but it’s just so badly run,” Scory said.

ALSO READ: Feds unveil principles for Indigenous ownership in Trans Mountain pipeline

Trans Mountain said its key objective is to treat each landowner along the route fairly and it bases its compensation on a formula related to market value, but the landowner retains ownership. The corporation also strives to be a leader in emergency preparedness and has plans for quick response in the event of any spill, it said.

In cases where Trans Mountain can’t settle with a landowner, the Canadian Energy Regulator provides a process to address differences of opinion, it said, and the regulator may ultimately grant right of entry to allow the corporation to build the pipeline.

Before a court decision last August halted the project, a process was underway to confirm the detailed route of the expansion. After the project was approved a second time in June, the regulator said the corporation must redo that process.

It means none of the detailed route has been approved. Trans Mountain has begun notifying local communities of its proposed route and is waiting for statements of opposition from affected people over 30-day periods. The energy regulator then reviews the statements and decides — segment by segment — whether detailed route hearings will be held and when.

The lack of route approval is already having an impact. Trans Mountain noted in an Aug. 19 letter to the regulator that it must begin construction of the Burnaby Mountain tunnel portal immediately and earth works must occur prior to the start of the peak rainy season in November. The regulator responded that it could not start work because the route is not approved.

“It’s hard to see the (detailed route approval) happening before the rainy season that they’ve cited,” said Wright.

READ MORE: More gasoline, less bitumen in Trans Mountain pipeline, B.C. premier urges Trudeau

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Editorial: Free Press editor bids farewell

Not too long ago the thought crossed my mind that I might… Continue reading

Health Foundation’s Starlite campaign underway

EKFH raising $1.2 million to bring a SPECT CT to the East Kootenay Region.

The Elk Valley remembers

Hundreds of people gathered throughout the Elk Valley to observe Remembrance Day… Continue reading

Government needs to step up to address $10M RCMP budget deficit: Morrison

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison says governments need to ensure rural communities are protected

Edmonton artist showcases work

On October 31, Edmonton artist Jennifer van Popta presented a gallery of… Continue reading

Cold, stormy winter forecast across much of Canada, The Weather Network predicts

In British Columbia temperatures will be slightly above normal and precipitation will be just below normal

UPDATED: Vancouver Island’s Joe gets suspended sentence in Teddy the dog cruelty case

Melissa Tooshley expected in court on Thursday in same case

Nineteen boats carrying invasive mussels stopped at B.C. borders

Waters of Columbia-Shuswap still test mussel-free

Woman ‘horrified’ after being told to trek 200 kilometres home from Kamloops hospital

‘I can’t get from Kamloops back to 100 Mile House injured, confused… no shoes, no clothes whatsoever’

Canadian universities encourage exchange students in Hong Kong to head home

UBC said 11 of its 32 students completing programs in Hong Kong have already left

Midget no more: Sweeping division name changes coming to minor hockey in Canada

Alpha-numeric division names will be used for the 2020-2021 season and beyond

Duncan man gets suspended sentence in Teddy the dog cruelty trial

Joe also gets lifetime ban on owning animals

B.C. pushes for greater industry ‘transparency’ in gasoline pricing

Legislation responds to fuel price gap of up to 13 cents

B.C. woman ordered to return dog to ex-boyfriend for $2,000

After the two broke up, documents state, they agree to share custody of the dog, named Harlen

Most Read