On May 23, I received an email invitation to an “upcoming workshop to discuss the proposed route for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project in Valemount”. I was confused about how they got my name but I jumped at the chance to understand more about the plan, and share my opinions and thoughts.
On May 28th, about 12 local residents met upstairs at the Best Western with nine representatives from Kinder Morgan, all wearing green fleece jackets. There were some maps on the tables, including one detailed map of the existing pipeline and the “study corridor” along the 8 km or so next to the village. There were also two big binders of maps, and I love books, so I of course had to look. One of the Kinder Morgan reps told me jokingly that I was cheating, since the meeting hadn’t started yet, but I was interested (as others in the meeting were) about the areas both north and south of the village itself, not just village itself.
Kate Stebbings, who mentioned later that she is going to be “our person” throughout the engagement process for the next few years, started the meeting with everyone introducing themselves, and then gave us some background on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, and the approval process, and that information recorded during this meeting was to make up part of their submission to the National Energy Board.
Next there was some discussion around what the “study corridor” is – that is the 150 meter-wide strip of land in which Kinder Morgan thinks the new pipeline will go, based on the Environmental and Socio-economic Assessments done so far, and the right-of-way of the existing pipe. There was also some discussion of areas needed for construction, remediation and “safe zones”, and basically, the new pipe might fall anywhere in that 150 meter wide strip, but the final line won’t be decided until the very end of the planning.
Finally, we all got to see the route on the maps, the study corridor marked in yellow, and the existing pipe marked in orange. I was thinking that this must be the point of the meeting, to get our feedback on the proposed path, and I wondered why there weren’t more people at this meeting. What about the land owners, people whose property is intersected or bordered by the pipeline? What about businesses, or people who have various rights to use the land, many of who were not at this meeting. But clearly that was not what this meeting was about. This was not what they were asking questions about.
We broke for dinner, a buffet with salads, baked chicken and barbecue steak and a banana and cream cheese desert. There was time for relaxed conversation, and I am sure there are some intangible benefits to creating that relaxed conversation. Maybe some question of ethics too. I guess that if you are planning a four hour meeting right around suppertime, you probably need to feed people, but why did they choose that time? It seemed to me from the beginning that this was a very carefully crafted exercise, and the timing was specifically chosen.
After that, as Stebbings put it somewhat jokingly, we were going to work for our meal. This, I realized, is what they’d really brought us here for – they were looking for information about how the construction might affect the community as a whole. They are looking for in depth (one might even say insider?) information about what goes on along and around the study corridor. The kind of stuff they might not get from talking to the property owners, maybe the kind of stuff they miss until someone brings it up to the National Energy Board when they come through looking for input. I suppose it makes things smoother if Kinder Morgan has already got plans for handling anything that is brought up to the National Energy Board. And makes things more difficult if they are blindsided by something they’ve missed. But I still don’t know how the attendees were chosen, and why so few came (or were invited). On Friday, May 31, I was in contact via email with a media person for the project, Lisa Clement, and it is one of the specific questions I asked – “How were attendees selected?” She answered some of my questions, and explained that the purpose of the workshop was “to invite technical experts, community leagues, residential associations, city reps and local interest groups so Trans Mountain could provide additional high level information to those with invested interest and closely impacted by the expansion project.” I suspect they might have missed some interested groups, and I wonder exactly what the “additional high level information” is. Why shouldn’t all the high level information be available publicly? Clement also noted that the goal of the workshop “is to receive feedback on specific identified criteria (land, water, air and land use (recreation)) as part of the ongoing Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment.” But again, why invite such a small group? At the end of the meeting, they asked us who else they should contact, and asked us to help spread the word about the online feedback campaign they are running (Have Your Say at transmountain.com/talk). And when I checked what was available online on Friday morning, they only showed one small map of Valemount (and one of Blue River). They are since showing a larger map (“Zoomed Out Map of Valemount”), and one of the reps from the meeting promised me that they are working on getting more maps on the website.
As Clement later confirmed, they were looking for categorized comments, and I found it interesting that they spent some time explaining how we should “think” about these factors, giving us some examples, and really kind of framing for us how we should respond. I’m sure there is some study that has gone into trying to get the required information from people in these instances, but I am sure there must be some benefit from some free flowing thought and discussion as well. They had a stenographer in the room, so they could record a lot of detailed comments during the rest of the meeting, but in this section, we were split in two groups – and one stenographer can’t cover both groups. Maybe the stenographer wasn’t just there to record our thoughts, but to record what information we were given?
The last item on the agenda was “Initial idea generation – community benefits.” And I have to say, this was a fun bit. Kinder Morgan wants us to think of possible ways they could help benefit our community, for example if maybe they had machinery around that wasn’t going to be working for a week, maybe they could help do something. The wish list we came up with was centered I think around 3 themes: 1) help us build things like trails (walking, biking, etc, connecting existing trails, fixing bridges) 2) support our organizations by attending events and volunteering 3) Support our organizations by making contact with them, getting to know the groups, let them know what equipment Kinder Morgan might have available, and what purchasing power they might be able to help with. But that was just the ideas of 12 people, and this bit is not included in the online Have Your Say campaign.
I think we might have surprised Kinder Morgan with this one. Stebbings noted laughingly that she was proud of us, because we didn’t ask for a lot of money! They had a grid on the wall, where they planned to put our ideas in categories of low and high impact, and low and high cost/likelihood. Most of our suggestions were in the high impact/high likelihood region on the wall, although one resident suggested that we shouldn’t be afraid to ask big and not short-change ourselves.
I hope a lot of people go online to look at the study corridor, and to make comments. I think you can make comments anonymously, or you can log in to join a discussion. I hope Kinder Morgan puts more (all) of the maps online so everyone can see them, and Clement says that a public Open House will be held in Kamloops on June 13 at Coast Hotel. They did mention at the workshop that the National Energy Board will be coming to communities along the pipeline, and I hope those are more open and well attended events.
By: Korie Marshall