Gallant Avenue was quieter than usual for a Saturday and many of the storefronts dark.
Taped to the glass of the Bluhouse Market & Cafe door, right below the wooden, hand-painted “closed” sign, was a poster advertising a march from Vancouver City Hall to protest Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Normally, Bluhouse owner Jennifer McCarthy only closes her shop one day a year, for Christmas. But on Nov. 19, McCarthy made an exception. Her staff stood behind their boss, willing to give up a day’s pay for a good cause: fighting for the environmental protection of Deep Cove.
“When I went to our crew here and asked, ‘What about this folks? Does anybody want to gather and get together and do this?’ One hundred per cent of the crew said, ‘Yes, I want to give up my wages that day to go,’” says McCarthy.
“That really spoke to me about the importance of actually shutting the doors. We gave up sales that day too but it’s because we feel so strongly. This is something that we have to stand for right now in our community, it’s too big a risk.”
Businesses belonging to the Deep Cove Merchants Association feel the same way, that the risk of allowing Kinder Morgan’s large-scale project to cut into their community is too great, especially for operations on the water like Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak.
Erian Baxter runs the outdoor recreation company and saw a minor spill in 2007 that left her staff cleaning boats and equipment with dish soap for a week after a section of Kinder Morgan’s existing pipeline ruptured.
“Belcarra (park) was hit pretty badly and (it hit) Cates Park just a little bit. It didn’t quite make it to Deep Cove with the way the inlet works but ... we closed operations for three to five days. We were speaking with our school director the other day and they’re still testing the mussels ... in the area and they’re still showing (contamination) in them from almost ten years ago,” Baxter says. “We don’t have the right to risk (those resources.)”
The domino effect is far reaching for the small community and a spill could impact other businesses along the inlet, says Baxter. The Tsleil-Waututh Nation run Cates Park Paddling Centre and Takaya Tours in Belcarra Park, while several of the summer camps operate farther up Indian Arm.
“I’m so not a ‘not in my backyard’ person. I try really, really hard to look at all the aspects of it and in this one I’m just screaming ‘not in our front yard,’” says Baxter, referring to the pipeline proposal as a province-wide issue.
Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak, on average, sees about 30,000 visitors per year and employs 60 to 80 people within a season, many of whom are first-time employees.
“Those are all things that help our community and all of those would vanish in a heartbeat if there was a spill of any kind,” explains Baxter. “And that’s not just those nice people from Germany who can’t rent a boat, it’s those 50, 60, 70 school groups that won’t get to come out, those kids’ summer camps. It’s not frivolous, it’s very community based.”
Seeing young employees passionate about issues in their community was one of the factors that inspired McCarthy to look more deeply into the proposed pipeline.
McCarthy said she’s frustrated by the time and energy being poured into an issue that has, in her eyes, made it clearer each day that the socioeconomic risk falls to the people whose livelihood relies on the survival of our coast.
“We’ve been in business for two-and-a-half years, so we’re still growing, we’re still finding our feet – but our best day in the summer is ten times better than our slowest day in the winter,” explains McCarthy.
“I would expect that if we had a spill here I would see every day be like my slowest winter day, because the traffic that we have in the summer is because of people that are coming to this place because it’s so beautiful. They wouldn’t come (to Deep Cove) if there was oil all over the beaches. I seriously think we’d be out of business, without question, in a year, if there was a catastrophic spill.”
The Deep Cove Merchants Association had the opportunity to discuss all of these concerns with Burnaby North-Seymour MP Terry Beech on Nov. 9 at Honey’s Doughnuts.
“I had only scheduled an hour and a half but we ended up having a three-and-a-half hour meeting,” said Beech, who told the Crier he walked the group through the research he had done to compile a 10-page document, which was presented to the Trans Mountain ministerial panel for consideration.
“I think one of the roles that politicians potentially haven’t been playing (recently) is more of that deep research and education role to make sure that people are properly informed and educated when big decisions that impact our community are being made.”
The largest concerns outlined in his report included recreation, tourism and aquaculture, issues which he didn’t find were well represented after reading the National Energy Board’s report.
Beech said his constituent’s concerns were reflected and expanded on, in a ministerial panel report, that included how a pipeline expansion would affect film, television and real estate revenues in the area. Beech said it was a good sign in his eyes.
“The real goal here is to make sure that MPs, especially the people who are making decisions, fully understand and are educated on the impact of either a yes or no decision,” he says. “I’m focusing on the issues that I can control.”
As for possible alternative routes, Baxter says she hates to push the pipeline into another community but sees the sense in removing the route from an area that is so heavily laden with community activity and recreation.
Both Roberts Bank in Delta and the Cherry Point Refinery in Washington are alternative terminal destinations that were put in front of cabinet for consideration, said Beech, before the Nov. 29 announcement from the federal government endorsing Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which will triple the amount of bitumen destined for the Westridge terminal and increase five-fold the number of Aframax Tankers departing from Burrard Inlet.
“I just want to ask people to learn a bit more about it, speak up and don’t assume that somebody else is going to protect where you work, live and play,” McCarthy says with a sigh.
“If corporate interest get put ahead of environment and the outspoken concern of the community and First Nations, I think that would be a real shame to look back on.”
And as Baxter and McCarthy sit in the cosy Bluhouse cafe and reflect on the last year and their efforts to rally their community into action, an idea strikes.
“Maybe that’s the problem,” Baxter says. “Maybe Kinder Morgan doesn’t feel like they’re part of our community. Maybe we should invite them for a potluck dinner.” ■