Much ado about trees? Burnaby's legal battle about stopping a pipeline: SFU prof

Ostensibly, it’s a legal battle over trees on Burnaby Mountain.  But at the root, it’s just pipeline politics, says Stephen Collis.

Kinder Morgan Kennedy Stewart
Burnaby Mountain trees cut by Kinder Morgan - September 2014
Camera crews taken deep into Burnaby Mountain's Conservation Area last week were shown where trees were downed by Kinder Morgan for pipeline-test drill work. Photos provided by Kennedy Stewart's office.

In what’s fast becoming a battle of lawyers between the City of Burnaby and energy giant Kinder Morgan, the municipality announced today it is filing an injunction to stop the company’s latest legal attempts to push ahead its disputed pipeline-test drilling on Burnaby Mountain.

Burnaby's mayor says the specific spat is over the downing of “13 ecologically significant trees” by the company last week, which violates local bylaws.

“Kinder Morgan was not entitled to carry out this destructive action,” said Mayor Derek Corrigan in a statement Tuesday. 

“We will do everything we can as a City to ensure Kinder Morgan does not return.”

But SFU professor Stephen Collis thinks this row isn’t really about the trees.  He believes the mayor’s actions are about trying to stop the $5.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, period.

“Mayor Corrigan is reacting to his constituents' unhappiness about [Kinder Morgan’s] proposal -- it's about it going on to people’s property."

"The pipeline goes under a school, through a golf course -- it’s a major disruption.” 

“I think he’s rightly taking a stand, saying 'I don’t want it,'” said Collis, who is also organizing a rally Saturday against the pipeline project.

Kinder Morgan spokesperson Ali Hounsell said the company has been trying to work closely with the Mayor and the city for months to gain access to Burnaby Mountain. 

When the city denied the Texas-headquartered company, it asked the National Energy Board last week to forbid the city from interfering with its work.

Burnaby resident protest against Kinder Morgan

The area has also been a rallying location lately for local residents who oppose the project.

Hounsell said the company had started removing trees in early September, because the company believed it already had the authority.  The drill work is to understand the ground's conditions for what Kinder Morgan hopes will be the conduit for its oil sands pipeline.

“It’s the kind of work we’ve been doing up and down the pipeline between Edmonton and Burnaby for the last 18 months.  Similar work has been conducted on municipal lands, private lands, parks without incident,” said Hounsell Tuesday.

She added that Kinder Morgan crews removed red alder trees, which can easily be replaced. 

The pipeline itself still needs to face a NEB hearing process, and the final decision by the board and ultimately the Harper cabinet is not expected until next year.

The project is projected to triple the pipeline’s current flow of Alberta oil, resulting in an increase in oil tankers in Burrard Inlet from 60  per year to more than 400, according to the company.

Burnaby’s Mayor is expected to speak at Saturday’s rally against the project.  The event starts at 2 p.m. near Horizon’s Restaurant at 100 Centennial Avenue in Burnaby Mountain Park. 

Also speaking: Carleen Thomas with the Tsleil Waututh Nation Sacred Trust, Eugene Kung with West Coast Environment Law, and NDP M.P. Kennedy Stewart.

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