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Trans Mountain cleared to remove Burnaby trees without city permits

The City of Burnaby won't be appealing the ruling from the Canada Energy Regulator, which found TMX is not beholden to Sec. 3 of the city's tree bylaw, which bars tree removal without permits
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An organizer with Protect the Planet Stop TMX, on Jan. 23, shows local residents and activists a tree that is slated for removal as part of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

The City of Burnaby said it is "disappointed" by a decision by federal regulators that determined Trans Mountain is not required to obtain city permits to remove more than 1,300 trees in the community.

However, the city added that it will not be seeking to appeal the Canada Energy Regulator's decision. The city and Trans Mountain delivered oral arguments on Friday, Jan. 29, in which each party portrayed the other as dealing in bad faith on the matter.

The city claimed Trans Mountain had demanded an unreasonably short turnover between the application for and granting of the permits. Conversely, the federal Crown corporation claimed the city had been working with it for months and should have been prepared to quickly process and grant the permits.

The Canada Energy Regulator, the successor to the National Energy Board, was asked to determine whether Section 3 of the city’s tree bylaw is inapplicable to Trans Mountain in its tree clearing work. That section simply states that protected trees – those with diameters of 20.3 centimetres or greater – cannot be damaged or removed without a permit from the city.

In an order issued on Tuesday, Feb. 2, a three-person CER panel determined Section 3 to be inapplicable to Trans Mountain’s work. However, the panel specified the order “does not absolve Trans Mountain from compliance with … any other section of the tree bylaw that otherwise remains applicable and operative.”

Reasons for the decision have not yet been issued. The NOW has reached out to the city for comment on the matter.

In a statement to the NOW, the Dogwood Initiative, a B.C.-based nonprofit that advocates on progressive issues like the environment, denounced the decision.

“Over and over again, this captured energy regulator has put the interests of international oil companies ahead of those of the people of Burnaby and B.C.,” said Alexandra Woodsworth, Dogwood campaign manager, in an email. “Allowing Trans Mountain to break city laws in the name of the 'national interest' is anti-democratic, and all the more unjust when experts are lining up to tell the federal government that this project is unnecessary and a losing bet for Canadian taxpayers.”

A pair of resident groups similarly said they were “infuriated” by the decision, but Karl Perrin, a spokesperson for Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion (BROKE), said it was “not at all surprising.”

“Considering that Trudeau appointed the CER and Trudeau bought the Trans Mountain pipeline, both may as well be unelected branches of the federal government,” Perrin said. “This really is a David and Goliath story, and BROKE commends the city for their brave efforts over many years fighting against this tree- and bitumen-hungry Goliath.”

One group has set up a campaign – the 1308 Trees project – intended to gather letters, art and poems about trees in order to bring attention to the 1,308 trees slated for removal.

“Trees matter. We are witnesses to their beauty, grace, generosity and endangered status. If they are killed by Trans Mountain, we will collectively grieve their loss,” reads a statement on the group’s website. “But we want them to live and your message to let the tree know, we do not agree with their death, and there is no social licence for their destruction. Honour a tree as your relative.”

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