As Kinder Morgan moves to the start of construction on the controversial Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion project, the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) approved the company’s request for non-farm use of hundreds of hectares of farmland.
The majority of that land is for, or adjacent to, the pipeline right-of-way, but a group of residents in Laidlaw east of Chilliwack are worried about a plan to use an actively farmed property in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) for pipe storage and a work camp.
“We are just concerned about the impact on the land itself,” said neighbour Brad Willocks who helped gather signatures for a petition. “They want to take off the topsoil and then gravel it for a storage yard and living quarters for workers.”
The properties in questions make up about 45 to 50 acres in the St. Elmo Road area near the Hope Scale north of Highway 1 near the Fraser River. Neighbour Noreen Patrick says the land was turned from “a mess of roots and stumps” into productive farmland that’s been leased by a dairy farmer for the last 15 years.
“This is agricultural land that a local farmer has been depending on but in no way can he compete with Kinder Morgan,” she said.
They created a petition signed by about 20 neighbours, which was forwarded to the company last month.
“Our first concern is [the land is] in the Agricultural Land Reserve and it’s supposed to be used as farmland,” Willocks said. “It’s not an industrial site, it’s never been industrial in this area. It’s all farmland.”
The 1,150-kilometre Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project (TMEP) has been approved by the federal government and the previous provincial government, and will nearly triple the capacity of the 64-year-old pipeline that brings product from the Alberta oilsands to the port in Burnaby.
While the project got the National Energy Board green light and has been approved by higher levels of government, some First Nations and some municipalities have expressed discontent ranging from outright opposition to niggling over routing. And the new provincial NDP government promised to do whatever it can in its power to stop the expansion.
Despite that, the company said construction is set to commence next month, and in preparation Kinder Morgan applied to the ALC to use 975 hectares (ha) of land over 621 properties along the route for a utility corridor for the TMX.
In a decision rendered July 13, the ALC’s executive committee agreed to the company’s use of 869.2 ha for the project, that despite expressing its own concerns about the protection of agriculture. Of the total ALR land, 128 ha is for the existing right-of-way (ROW), 210.4 ha is for new ROW, and 530.75 ha is for temporary workspace directly adjacent to the pipeline to facilitate construction.
With the caveat that the TMEP “may be an economic driver for the Province of British Columbia” and that the expansion of the energy sector should not be conducted at the detriment of farming, the ALC approved the utility corridor.
“Given all of the contributing factors, the Executive Committee is amenable to the Proposal, provided that mitigation and reclamation measures are employed both during and after construction,” the decision stated.
Regarding a further 106.5 ha, however, for temporary stockpiles, worker camps and office-use sites on non-adjacent ALR land, the company was ordered to make separate applications.
As of Wednesday, the company said it hadn’t made a firm decision on locations for the temporary worksites, nor could they confirm how many work camps and storage yards were needed for the project.
When asked if the St. Elmo site was still under consideration, Trans Mountain spokesperson Ali Hounsell said: “We haven’t made a final determination, but it’s imminent.”
An emailed response from the company said they recognize the potential impacts of land use during construction, and multiple factors are taken into consideration, including “stakeholder feedback.”
“Our goal is to minimize impacts, and return the land to its original function. All temporary sites will be reclaimed to the same or better condition, based on pre- and post- disturbance surveys.”
The total length of the TMEP within the Fraser Valley Region is approximately 146.3 km of which approximately 46.1 km (31.5 per cent) is in agricultural use; and there are 46.8 km in Metro Vancouver region is approximately 46.8 km of which 9.2 km (19.6 per cent) is in agricultural use.
And while the company says farmland will be reclaimed, Patrick doesn’t accept that’s possible.
“Kinder Morgan plans to scrape off the top foot of soil, haul in gravel to make a firm base and store pipe on that land as well as have a camp for pipeline crews,” she said. “Two years down the road, remove the gravel, push around the soil, and there you go, good as new.
“Unfortunately that’s not the way it works in the real world.”
Other concerns from neighbours include: aesthetics, noise, traffic, the water table, soil contamination and further pressure on dwindling farmland.
Applications to the ALC for non-farm use and exclusion are sent to the local municipality, which then forwards them on to the ALC with or without support, or without comment. This property is in Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD), which said it has not received any non-farm applications from Kinder Morgan for the TMEP.
”If the FVRD receives an application for the ALC, it is considered independently on its merits and staff prepare a report for the board’s consideration,” said FVRD spokesperson Jennifer Kinneman. “It should be noted that in this case, the pipeline project is under federal jurisdiction and has already been approved by the National Energy Board and the Government of Canada.
“The FVRD has been encouraging Kinder Morgan to consider locating pipe storage and camp sites at locations that will minimize impacts to the community. We don’t yet know what the outcome of these efforts will be. In the meantime, we’ve ensured that the community concerns are being effectively relayed to both Kinder Morgan and the ALC and that there is dialogue between the parties.”