The flood of calls from angry constituents to Kennedy Stewart's office this week is proof that the National Energy Board (NEB) has failed to give enough notice of when people must apply to speak at hearings on Kinder Morgan's proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the Burnaby-Douglas MP says.
Mr. Stewart's office on Monday sent about 25,000 automated phone messages and 30,000 notices to inform constituents the window to sign up for the hearings is closing. The application period opened on Jan. 15 and will close on Feb. 12. By midday Wednesday, Mr. Stewart said more than 1,000 people had called his office, upset that they did not know about the deadline and asking for help to apply.
"If you look, on the day, Jan. 15, when this application opened, there wasn't even a press release issued by the NEB," Mr. Stewart said. "You hate to think of conspiracy theories, but it really looks like the NEB is trying to limit participation as much as possible in this process.
"I ask [callers], 'How are you feeling?' and they say, 'I'm really angry.'"
Built more than 60 years ago, the 1,150-kilometre Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby transports about 300,000 barrels of oil a day. The $5.4-billion expansion would add 980 kilometres of new pipe that would nearly triple the capacity to 890,000 barrels. Tanker traffic would increase to 34 loadings a month from five.
Kinder Morgan filed its formal application with the NEB on Dec. 16, and the federal government's legislated period for review and decision is 15 months. If approved, the expansion is expected to be operational by late 2017.
Mr. Stewart says his office has brought in extra staff members to help constituents apply. While the process is generally easy, one of the more difficult elements is the requirement that applicants prove they would be directly affected if the project is approved or rejected, Mr. Stewart said.
"You could have a direct interest, but if you explain it incorrectly, you won't get accepted," he said.
People who are directly affected could include those living along the proposed route, people who commute in the area or use beaches that could be compromised by increased tanker traffic, Mr. Kennedy said.
"But you can see the difficulty here: If nobody knows the call for applications is open, and that it ends on Feb. 12, by the time people figure out they may have a direct interest, the window for their ability to participate has been closed," he said. "It really is a sneaky thing for the NEB to do and it's quite disgusting."
Mr. Kennedy will hold a meeting at Burnaby's Confederation Community Centre on Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m. to provide instructions on how to get involved in the hearings.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 75 people had applied to participate in the hearings, most of whom oppose the plan. Concerns include potential health and environmental effects, lack of consultation and decreased property values.
In its application, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said approval of the project would relieve pipeline constraints "that are trapping Canadian crude oil supply." Rejecting the proposal could lead to the discounting of Canadian crude oil and a loss of revenue to the government, it stated.
An applicant who works in steel fabrication said a new pipeline would be the safest way to transport oil and be beneficial to B.C. businesses.
The City of Vancouver has said it will apply for intervenor status because the expansion poses substantial risks to the local economy and environment.
The NEB did not return a call for comment.
No First Nations have applied. Ernie Crey, fisheries adviser to the Sto:lo Tribal Council, said the Cheam First Nation will meet on Friday to discuss what he calls a deeply troubling situation.
"I am told that some $2-million is being set aside to support First Nations participation (this would be First Nations on both sides of the Rockies)," Mr. Crey said in an email. "This is a pitiful sum of money given the large number of First Nations along the pipeline route and everything that is potentially at stake."
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