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Schools along Kinder Morgan pipeline unprepared for disaster?

Second in a series about impacts on people living along the Kinder Morgan pipeline. 

(Page 2 of 2)

With her group, Major has identified 23 schools in the Lower Mainland within 200 metres of the existing oil pipeline. These include Vedder Middle School, Watson Elementary School and Unsworth Elementary School in Chilliwack. 

Even though progress has been understandably slow due to the summer break, more needs to be done before it's too late, she argued.  "We're a polite society, but with the experience of 47 people dead at Lac Megantic, that just shows that we may be complacent in thinking big companies are going to take care of us," she said. 

In the neighbouring community of Abbotsford, Pipe Up member and policy analyst Lynn Perrin said schools can't leave it up to companies to deal with oil spills as they happen.  "There needs to be more emergency preparedness for teachers," Perrin said. "The concern is legitimate. Especially regarding polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in diluted bitumen...and this new pipeline is going to be 100 per cent bitumen." 

She pointed to the example of a spill in Abbotsford last year, when 110,000 litres of oil leaked from a holding tank at Kinder Morgan's Sumas Mountain terminal site down to the Auguston Traditional School, which parents described to local media as a "terrifying" experience. Even though the first alarm was received by at 2:39 a.m., the Kinder Morgan operator only managed to discover the leak and close the valve four hours later. 

Some pipeline critics have raised concerns that Kinder Morgan provides schools along the pipeline with funding, which they suspect may be stifling calls for more information from the company. "Kinder Morgan donates quite a bit," said Elsie Dean, a member of Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Pipeline Expansion (BROKE) whose application to attend a green carnival at University Highlands Elementary school was denied earlier this year. She said the school had received funding from the company to build a new playground, which was completed last October. 

"I don't think they think we were rejected because we were causing trouble, because we've never caused any trouble," she said. "I think they didn't want us there giving information about what we've learned about the pipeline expansion." 

According to University Highlands Elementary's Parent Advisory Committee website, the funds from Kinder Morgan for the playground totaled just $500, but the company may have given more to other schools, sources have told the Vancouver Observer.

Screenshot from UHE's 2011 financial statement  

Parents whose children attend schools along the pipeline have also noticed the Kinder Morgan's increased presence."I got a panicked email from some individuals in the spring, saying temporary tattoos with Kinder Morgan's logo were made available to students at a weekend event at one of our elementary schools," Sanyshyn said. "What I was able to figure out was that a certain school had a community day that accepted funding from local businesses, and Kinder Morgan just happened to be one of those groups that had made the cut."

But Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, who has been a vocal critic of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, stated that Burnaby schools are "absolutely not" influenced by Kinder Morgan's donations. "While the Board of Education is responsible for donations to schools, I feel confident in telling you that my colleagues on School Board would not be influenced, particularly in any situations that would affect the safety of the schools or the students," he said. "Kinder Morgan also makes donations to events or projects throughout the city and also contributes to projects that benefit the community in cooperation with the city."

While Burnaby Council opposes Kinder Morgan's pipeline expansion, he does not believe the company should be denied opportunities to make the same kind of contributions to schools that other companies are allowed to give. "Council's position is clear, but Kinder Morgan continues to donate in an effort to express good will and generosity, regardless of the dispute," he said. "It would be churlish to deny them that opportunity."

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