First Nations question plan to revive Trans Mountain pipeline expansion 

click to enlarge JENNIFER GAUTHIER, BURNABY NOW - Members of Coast Salish First Nations lead a flotilla from North Vancouver to Trans Mountain's Westridge marine terminal in Burnaby to perform a ceremony on the water in July.
  • Jennifer Gauthier, Burnaby Now
  • Members of Coast Salish First Nations lead a flotilla from North Vancouver to Trans Mountain's Westridge marine terminal in Burnaby to perform a ceremony on the water in July.

Local First Nations opposed to the expansion of the TransMountain pipeline are questioning the short timeframe set by the federal government to redo the environmental review of the project.

Three weeks after the Federal Court of Appeal overturned approval of the expansion project, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi announced Friday the federal cabinet is giving the National Energy Board 22 weeks to complete a thorough review of the environmental impact of additional oil tankers that would result from the additional flow of diluted bitumen from an expanded pipeline.

Canada's plans to restart consultations with Indigenous communities will be announced shortly, said Sohi.

On Friday, Squamish Nation spokesman Khelsilem welcomed the additional review on tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet, saying his nation has long been calling for that.

But Khelsilem questioned the 22-week timeframe the government has set for the review.

“Real science takes time,” he said, adding that in the past, “we’ve seen them try to push this project through.”

“I think it’s important that we get this right,” he said.

The Squamish Nation also expects to have a much larger role in both the review and any future development of Burrard Inlet, he added.

“We need to be involved and have influence over anything that’s going to happen in our territory.”

“At this point I have a healthy dose of skepticism based on the track record of the government,” he said. “I wait to see how their behaviour changes as a result of our victory in the (court).”

In a press statement, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation had a similar response, welcoming the inclusion of marine shipping in the environmental review, but voicing concern about the deadline for that and doubt about whether consultation with First Nations will be adequate.

Rueben George, spokesman for the Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s Sacred Trust Initiative, said he still doesn’t have faith in the National Energy Board review process, particularly since the federal government is now both the owner of the pipeline and the political body that approves it. “They’re looking out for the best interests of their investment,” he said.

Cabinet approved the expanded pipeline in 2016, despite opposition from environmentalists and First Nations.

In May, Canada announced it would buy the existing pipeline from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion, expand it and then sell it back to a private buyer.

That deal was concluded in August, on the same day the federal court quashed approval for the project.

Both North Shore Liberal MPs have said since they are confident setbacks dealt to the Trans Mountain pipeline project in the court ruling can be overcome.

North Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson, who is also the federal minister of fisheries and oceans, said shortly after the court decision he feels strongly the work done by the government on the Oceans Protection Plan to protect southern resident killer whales will be deemed sufficient to allay environmental concerns raised in the court decision.

Wilkinson said the decision to exclude potential environmental impacts of marine shipping in the national energy board’s review of the pipeline expansion was made by the previous Conservative government.

But since then, the government has put together a “very robust action plan” to protect southern resident killer whales, including taking steps to slow down the speed of ships, and make changes to shipping lanes to move them away from areas where whales feed, said Wilkinson.

Wilkinson said he believes the pipeline can be built in a manner that respects the wider environment and the need to protect the whales.

-with files from Canadian Press

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