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Energy giant Spectra sues six Chilliwack farmers

Spectra Energy crews during an
Spectra Energy crews during an 'emergency' dig on Gordon Mitchell's Chilliwack farm in 2011. Mitchell says soil damage from this dig left the crops stunted in subsequent years.
— image credit: Submitted

Spectra Energy may have thousands of kilometres of natural gas pipelines across North America, but one short stretch through the heart of Chilliwack is proving to be particularly troublesome.

The Fortune 500 company filed a lawsuit last Friday against six Chilliwack farmers who won’t let the pipeline company onto their properties.

While the local landowners say Spectra is being a bully ever since they caused crop damage to a corn field in 2011, the company says the lawsuit is simply a “plan B,” to clarify their legal access under existing easement agreements.

Because of increased population growth in Chilliwack, National Energy Board (NEB) safety guidelines require Spectra to replace a 2.4-kilometre section of 30-inch pipe.

The pipeline runs beneath approximately 20 private residential and farm properties as well as the parking lots of Redline Water Sports, Superstore, Cottonwood Mall and Chilliwack Mall.

The pipe also runs underneath corn fields owned by Gordon Mitchell, corn that is grown and sold by Ian Sparkes around the Fraser Valley in his iconic green and yellow corn barns.

Mitchell is a defendant along with Prairie Central Road property owners Kloot Farms, Lloyd and Wendy Taekema, Susanna Gutsche, Tom and Elisabeth Baumann, and Wolfgang and Carol Ann Lambrecht.

The Lambrechts, according to the lawsuit filed in Vancouver Court on May 2, have refused entry to Spectra unless a written “compensation agreement” was signed.

The other five landowners formed together as the Fraser Valley Association of Pipeline Landowners (FVAPL), and have also refused Spectra access to their land. They, too, want a written agreement that Spectra will pay for crop damage.

Gary Weilinger, vice-president of external relations for Spectra, says all that is already detailed within the existing easement agreement from 1957. But the FVAPL wants Spectra to sign an “integrity dig agreement,” as the company does with farmers in Ontario, and the farmers want the company to pay for all legal and other costs during negotiations.

Spectra has fought the latter request, and Weilinger said it is unreasonable.

“If everybody asked for what we think is a significant sum of money just to meet, frankly we would be out of business,” Weilinger told the Times Tuesday.

“What a pile of crap,” Mitchell responded Wednesday.

“All the other pipeline companies pay for lawyers and for negotiations to come to their meetings. Enbridges does. Kinder Morgan does. When they get down to negotiations they pay.”

Tom Baumann says Spectra’s lawsuit is a bullying tactic to put the company in a good position in upcoming negotiations.

“We say we have no problems with pipelines in general, but that we will have to have a written contract in place to make sure the digs are done under best management practices and don’t leave a mess of epic proportions as with the Mitchell Farm,” Baumann said. “We cannot believe verbal promises, a contract is our only assurance.”

Mitchell is angry at what he says is ongoing misinformation and misleading statements from Spectra. For example, Weilinger told the Times the company has paid for crop damage to a portion of his property for the last three years since a 2011 emergency dig.

“That’s a flat out lie,” Mitchell said. “He’s been misinformed. One year and one year only they paid us for. Gary Metz [another Spectra vice-president] refused to even talk about crop loss.”

The Chilliwack farmers are currently looking for a lawyer to respond to Spectra’s lawsuit, and Mitchell said they plan to countersue.

They have three weeks to respond.

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