"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Council's pipeline-input decision

Coquitlam Council voted unanimously last night to apply to the National Energy Board for formal Intervenor status at the NEB’s upcoming hearings in to Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC’s application to twin its pipeline through B.C. (and Coquitlam) to a terminal in Burnaby. I reluctantly supported the motion—reluctantly, because I thought the far more realistic and responsible position for the City to take was to apply for formal Commenter status.
However, when my amendment to this effect was defeated 5-3 (with only Mayor Richard Stewart and Councillor Brent Asmundson supporting me), I decided that having Internevor status was better than having no formal input at all, and therefore supported the original motion.
By now, most informed citizens will know plenty about the TMP project (also known as the Kinder-Morgan pipeline), so I won’t go over all the details. Here’s a link that provides much of the background. And here's a Coquitlam-specific link. 
Importantly, the line will not parallel the existing pipeline, which cuts through the heart of southwest Coquitlam, but will trace a new route along the southern edge of the city, near Highway 1.
The issue facing the City was whether we should work behind the scenes to resolve any safety and routing issues with TMP, should it win approval to build the pipeline, or apply to the NEB to have formal input into the approval process as a Commenter or Intervenor.
The City of Coquitlam’s General Manager of Strategic Initiatives, Maurice Gravelle, said in a January 30 memo to Mayor and Council that, “it is important the city apply to either submit a letter of comment or to be an Intervenor.” This statement helped me reach the decision that, yes, the City should have a formal place at the hearing table.
However,  Mr. Gravelle also reported that there would be negligible costs to researching and writing a letter of Comment, while the costs for assuming Intervenor status would be between $50,000 and $100,000. He also said, “It is anticipated that any concerns the City may have with the proposed Project will be addressed by Trans Mountain prior to the hearing.”
My research into the subject determined that being an Intervenor gave the person or organization the following rights and responsibilities: The opportunity to present written evidence; the right to question others on their written evidence; the right to cross-examine other witnesses at the oral portion of the hearing; the right to give final argument; the responsibility to attend at least on opening days, and days of direct relevance; and the right to receive all documents.
A Commenter has the ability to write a Letter of comment which: comments on how the City would be impacted positively or negatively by the project; comments or makes suggestions for conditions that should be placed on any approval; and declares any information that explains or supports our comments.
Given all this background (not the least of which was the statement by Mr. Gravelle that he anticipated that all Coquitlam-specific issues would be worked out prior to the start of the NEB hearings) and given the fact that only a select number are chosen to be a formal Intervenor, I concluded that the City’s best chance to be selected would be as a formal Commenter.  But, as I stated above, the majority of Council did not agree.
My fear is that, if we are granted Intervenor status (and that’s a big “if”), the City may end up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to duplicate what other levels of government, such as Metro Vancouver and the Provincial government, will already be doing.
Coquitlam’s input should be limited to site-specific, technical issues that directly impact the City. I suspect that some ardent environmental activists (of whom there were many in the audience on Monday night) will want to use any Coquitlam involvement as a springboard for broader arguments against the carbon economy, pipelines and the Alberta oil sands. If so, I will oppose them.

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