As Vancouver and Burnaby continue their court efforts to halt the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, some Chilliwack residents are trying to limit the pipeline's impact by arguing for a different route, away from an important aquifer.
Earlier this month, Chilliwack residents were given notice by the National Energy Board that they have 30 days to provide feedback on the pipeline's route through their city. Similar notices have been issued to residents in Abbotsford and Hope.
The Chilliwack group, many of them members of the WaterWealth Project, maintain the current route poses a risk to local salmon-enhancement areas, two schoolyards, dense neighbourhoods, the Vedder Mountain fault and the Sardis-Vedder aquifer, which is a source of water for most of Chilliwack.
Ian Stephen has lived in Chilliwack since 2006 and is a campaign manager at the WaterWealth Project. He said the group wants the pipeline to travel further along the north side of the Trans Canada Highway and wants it to cross at a different spot, affecting fewer homeowners and avoiding those sensitive ecological areas.
"If this thing is going to go ahead, the proposed route here is absurd," he said in an interview.
"If there was not already a pipe that went in in 1953 and this was a new route, I think it's pretty safe to say that they would not try and argue that going across a city's protected groundwater zone was the best route to go. … It makes no sense at all to stick a pipeline there when you can go around instead."
WaterWealth's approach to finding an alternative route for the pipeline, however, has resulted in backlash from both sides of the Trans Mountain debate. Mr. Stephen said many people simply remain committed to the larger fight over whether the pipeline should be expanded. The $6.8-billion project was approved by the National Energy Board almost a year ago and would double the capacity of the line running between Edmonton and Burnaby.
Earlier this month, the Alberta government applied for intervenor status with the Federal Court of Appeal, which is looking at a legal challenge brought by 16 groups – including the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby – arguing the pipeline was approved without a thorough look at its environmental impact.
Chilliwack Green Party candidate Wayne Froese also expressed concern for the project's current route through the city.
"They still have to do original construction work to dig a trench," he said. "Why in the world would we not move it off the aquifer to avoid any possibility, even 50 years from now, of a catastrophic spill?"
Chilliwack-Kent NDP candidate Patti MacAhonic, echoed the potential long-term risks the pipeline could have.
"This pipeline will really hurt us," she said. "It's absolutely beautiful here. Our water is our freshest resource and once these things are gone, they're gone. I can't even understand how putting a pipeline over an aquifer in our community would be a good idea."
Ali Hounsell, spokeswoman for Trans Mountain, acknowledged the city's concerns for its aquifer and the challenge that the city's densification has added to the project's route.
"Chilliwack is one of the most challenging communities in that it has developed quite a bit," she said. "We're very aware that the Chilliwack aquifer has important values to the residents of Chilliwack and we've been engaging with the community for the last five years. So we know we need to mitigate risk as much as we can."
Ms. Hounsell said Trans Mountain sent a letter to the City of Chilliwack, explaining its views of the proposed Trans Canada Highway route. The letter stated that placing the pipeline further along the highway would restrict the road's future expansion.
For the City of Vancouver, Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr said the point of the pipeline's route is moot, as the city would primarily be affected by the oil's export.
"No matter what the route is to get here … bitumen would be put into tankers and would pass through Vancouver," she said.
Liberal candidates for Chilliwack and Chilliwack-Kent were not available for comment.