The proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will face a fresh legal challenge this week in Vancouver, where several B.C. First Nations will argue a second round of consultations for the project – carried out after the first was deemed inadequate – failed to address First Nations’ concerns.
First Nations involved in the court case say those consultations were rushed and did little or nothing to address specific concerns, including the impact of marine shipping noise on endangered killer whales or the potential risks of building a pipeline near an aquifer that provides drinking water to members of the Coldwater Indian Band.
“It was pretty much the same as the first round,” Coldwater Indian Band Chief Lee Spahan said on Friday.
“What they consider consultation is not meaningful at all.”
The new round of consultations was rushed and did not include meaningful discussions about whether the pipeline route could be changed to protect an aquifer on which Coldwater members rely for drinking water, Mr. Spahan said.
The three-day hearing is scheduled to begin before the Federal Court of Appeal in Vancouver Monday.
In a statement, Natural Resources Canada said the government is preparing to vigorously defend its decision to approve the project and that its consultations “involved meaningful, two-way dialogue, which fulfilled the legal duty to consult.”
The First Nations involved in the court challenge – including the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh from the Lower Mainland and the Coldwater Indian Band, based near Merritt in the B.C. Interior – are seeking to reverse the federal government’s June, 2019, decision to reapprove the pipeline project.
It had been put on hold a year earlier, following an August, 2018, ruling from the Federal Court of Appeal that quashed Ottawa’s approval for the project over inadequate consultation with First Nations and a review process that failed to consider the potential impact on endangered killer whales.
That ruling triggered a fresh round of consultations, which Ottawa relied on in reapproving the project.
The expansion would triple the capacity of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries oil and refined projects from near Edmonton to an export terminal near Vancouver.
The project has encountered stiff opposition, including multiple court challenges from First Nations and environmental groups
The federal government bought the existing pipeline and other assets for $4.5-billion in May, 2018, amid concerns the former owner, Texas-based Kinder Morgan, was preparing to drop the project.
In a statement Friday, the Crown corporation said it looks forward to the opportunity to present its case to the Federal Court of Appeal.
“We are confident in the project we are building today and the proceeding about to get underway is the culmination of more than six years of consultation, environmental, technical and scientific studies and one that has been twice declared in the national interest,” the statement said.
Trans Mountain began construction on the first section of pipeline, west of Edmonton, along its expansion route this month.
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