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MAYOR'S MESSAGE: Why District of North Vancouver opposes Trans Mountain expansion

One of the defining characteristics that we North Shore residents share is passion for the environment.
Richard Walton

One of the defining characteristics that we North Shore residents share is passion for the environment.

We highly value and strongly identify with our natural assets and expect them to be protected and managed with a view to the very long-term future. One of my First Nation’s friends reminded me recently of their 7,000-year presence in the Inlet. This stewardship responsibility was top of mind for me when I recently appeared before the National Energy Board Review Panel on behalf of the district to explain our opposition to Trans Mountain’s application for the Burrard Inlet Westridge terminal expansion.

I presented after the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. My comments focused primarily on the threat that Trans Mountain’s pipeline and terminal expansion poses to our sensitive ecological waterfront areas and the impact an oil spill would have given that the district’s shoreline lies only a kilometre across the water from the terminal.

Trans Mountain’s application focused on what it deems to be the low likelihood of an oil spill, but failed to adequately balance this risk against the very high environmental consequences of any size of spill.

In our view Trans Mountain’s application doesn’t provide for adequate and effective protection or cleanup of the district’s complex shoreline, particularly along the uniquely sensitive Maplewood Flats Conservation Area.

It doesn’t provide for environmental monitoring of the varied and long-term effects of a spill on biological communities; it doesn’t provide for protection of the district’s community ecological investments; and it doesn’t address knowledge gaps regarding the behaviour and treatment of diluted bitumen in the marine environment. I would say those are some pretty significant gaps by even the most generous of assessments. And it appears the risk that has always been there is not mitigated significantly within the proposal.

The application proposes an increase from five to 34 tankers a month and, given the increased size of these vessels, the project would dramatically increase the amount of oil transported through the inner harbour.

One can certainly argue that improved technology reflected in improved hull structure and navigational systems reduces risk. However our position, borne out by recent experience with human error causing two oil spills in Burrard Inlet, is that the increased risk is unacceptable. In advance of applying for intervenor status in the hearings, the district took the time to listen to and learn from not only our residents but also the scientific community. We did not prejudge the process or its validity, or the integrity of Kinder Morgan.

Our experience is that there has been no significant consultation with the communities along the Inlet to determine what their acceptable levels of risk are with respect to the Trans Mountain project and the increased risk of oil spills that it brings to the region.

In 2005 the Blueridge escarpment collapsed during a heavy rain event and thousands of tonnes of mud, rock and trees came down the hillside. Many properties were damaged but, most tragically, a district resident died. Our council took a good hard look at how we deal with risk and, as a result, adopted a new approach to managing those risks that are particularly associated with natural hazards. This approach establishes criteria for the degree of risk that is acceptable to the community that is faced with the actual risk.  

Here is the most important point: decisions regarding risk management should take into account the wider context of the risk, and include consideration of the tolerance for those risks that will be borne by parties other than the organization that will benefit from the risk. This principle is both a Canadian and international standard for risk management, and yet it is not being used in this process.

What happens if we do have a spill in Burrard Inlet? Current spill response methods are slow, laborious, very expensive and, in certain circumstances, ineffective. Clean up of the mud flats, in the end, may simply not be possible, and this would be devastating to life forms in this important ecological area, especially if it were to happen during a seasonal period with high wildlife population levels.

Trans Mountain’s own application notes that cleaning oil from mudflats is a virtual impossibility. No matter how good the spill response program is, from the district’s perspective, it will inevitably be a clean-up operation. No matter how fast the response, the damage will have been done. This is why the district’s assessment of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project is that the environmental, economic, public health and safety risks posed by this project clearly and undeniably outweigh any public benefit.

The National Energy Board will release its recommendation report on May 20. It is my hope that the board understands the unique and serious risk the district would face if Trans Mountain’s expansion were allowed to proceed. After all, as residents of the inlet, we are a part of a much longer continuum of responsibility for the region’s ecological health.

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