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Why the National Energy Board must say no

Expanded pipeline would fly in the face of everything Burnaby has done to create a greener urban future

It is difficult to express in words how wrong it would be for the National Energy Board to allow Kinder Morgan to twin its Trans Mountain pipeline through Burnaby.

I'm prompted to write by the distinct possibility that the new pipeline will traverse Burnaby Mountain and the Trans Mountain tank farm on its southwest slope may be expanded to accommodate the expected more than doubling of the amount of crude oil that will be shipped to the coast and carried by tanker through Burrard Inlet.

I spent more than two years of my life chairing a city committee that negotiated an agreement that saw more than 300 hectares of Simon Fraser University forested land returned to Burnaby for park and conservation use.

The 1995 agreement included a city land exchange with SFU and a provincial financial contribution to create an endowment fund. It allowed the university to create, over time, a residential community that is now starting to provide more housing on the campus for students, faculty and staff, as well as the general community. The agreement included city recognition of the university's official community plan and formal agreement by SFU to work with the city through the rezoning and redevelopment process.

The city gained forested parkland which, added to the then-existing Burnaby Mountain Park, created a 1,400-acre, forested park, almost one-and-half times larger than Stanley Park. The dedication of the new parkland in a November 1996 city referendum meant that this wonderful, natural asset will be preserved and protected for future generations.

The agreement ended decades of uncertainty and mistrust around the SFU conservation lands. Burnaby had historically asserted that the lands could be used for conservation only, while the university maintained that as a provincial entity, it was legally exempt from city zoning bylaws and building rules. For decades, the university's building permit applications to the city were filed with letters from its lawyers, pointing out that the university wasn't legally obligated to ask Burnaby's permission to build structures on university land.

I strongly believed we should work to resolve our differences through a negotiated solution. Then Mayor Bill Copeland agreed with this approach and appointed me and then veteran councillor Doug Drummond to a liaison committee with a mandate to resolve these historic differences.

We spent more than two years in meetings with the university team, appointed by then-president John Stubbs and headed by then university vice-president Jack Blaney. I reached out to the local MLA Barb Copping, former premier Mike Harcourt and then university chancellor Yvonne Cocke to keep the negotiations moving forward.

Our goal in the negotiations was to provide a "win" for the university by allowing much-needed residential and commercial development within the "ring road" while preserving for all time the forest, wildlife habitat and streams of Burnaby Mountain for public use and enjoyment.

It was clear to me that the city had more resources to protect the unique habitat and ecosystem of Burnaby Mountain, as well as maintain the trail network that allowed public access to the terrain. And, in the years since the agreement, the city has committed resources to improve and protect the mountain parkland, streams and wildlife. A contaminated site on the north side of the mountain was rehabilitated and redeveloped into the popular Burnaby Mountain Air Bike Skills Park, opened by the city in 2008.

I saw the protection and expansion of Burnaby Mountain Park as part of a city strategy to expand our parkland network, especially as Burnaby was expected to accommodate greater residential growth as part of a regional strategy to protect farmland and reduce urban sprawl in the Lower Mainland.

Our city strategy also included the gradual de-industrialization of the Burrard Inlet, which has resulted in the beautiful and publicly accessible foreshore parkland at Barnet Marine Park. This strategy has also achieved major portions of Fraser Foreshore Park on the city's southern perimeter.  

The Kinder Morgan proposal to twin its pipeline through Burnaby and expand its tank farm on Burnaby Mountain flies in the face of the progress we have made in the gradual transition of Burnaby into an urban community.

We are far past the point where the expansion of heavy industry should be considered for Burnaby Mountain and the shore of Burrard Inlet along Burnaby.

If the National Energy Board approves the Trans Mountain pipeline twinning proposal with its clear implications for a bigger mountain tank farm, new petroleum tunnelling through Burnaby and vastly increased tanker traffic through Burrard Inlet, it will be thumbing its nose at decades of thoughtful planning in Burnaby. It will be acting as though nothing has changed in the Lower Mainland since the early to middle of the last century when refineries and other heavy industries were established on the shores of Burrard Inlet.

Opposition to the Kinder Morgan proposed pipeline twinning does not imply people in Burnaby are opposed to jobs and economic development or hypocritical because they drive gasoline-powered cars. These arguments are red herrings.

For decades, the shoreline of Vancouver's False Creek has been transformed from sawmills and heavy industry to housing and parkland. What would be the public reaction today if an industry, backed by a federal regulator, tried to force through the re-introduction or expansion of heavy industry on False Creek today?

Running high capacity oil pipelines through our neighbourhoods is risky. One only has to look at the record of pipeline ruptures in North America, not to mention the July 24, 2007 Trans Mountain rupture that blanketed numerous homes  with crude oil in our Westridge neighbourhood.

A pipeline through Burnaby Mountain seems risky as well since we live a seismically active area, close to the Cascadia subduction zone not far off the west coast of Vancouver Island.  Significant earthquakes are a certainty in the future. And what about the risk to Burnaby from a significantly expanded Trans Mountain tank farm should a major earthquake hit the region?

According to a Metro Vancouver report, Burnaby's population is expected to grow from 223,000 to 345,000 by 2041, while the region's population expected to grow from 2.3 million to 3.4 million people in the same time frame.

Burnaby is doing its part in accommodating population growth by planning new and expanded town centres, including UniverCity, and expanded parks and conservation areas. If the National Energy Board approves the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal, it will be a slap in the face to all efforts Burnaby has made to be a regional player in accepting the challenges of population growth in the region and protecting urban green space.

Burnaby's 1995 agreement with the province and the university reflected the vision that a vast forest on Burnaby Mountain, teeming with wildlife, and wildlife habitat, could be protected for future generations and treasured by all residents and visitors. Larger tank farms and oil pipelines are not the right vision for Burnaby Mountain and adjacent residential neighbourhoods. The National Energy Board and the federal government should reject Kinder Morgan's proposal.


Lee Rankin served 22 years on Burnaby council. He is a practising lawyer and lives near Deer Lake.