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Chilliwack farmer says he's among silent majority in favour of oil pipelines

Yarrow resident and business owner Bill Tuytel on the Trans Mountain pipeline right-of-way that runs through his property. - Greg Laychak
Yarrow resident and business owner Bill Tuytel on the Trans Mountain pipeline right-of-way that runs through his property.
— image credit: Greg Laychak

Bill Tuytel walks past hundreds of cedar trees in pots at the front of his Yarrow property.

He strolls over a creek lined with vigorous willow trees, and points to where, in January, he found the last spawning coho of the season.

Beyond the cedars and the waterway and the driveway to his sprawling Wilson Road home, Tuytel strides across a green field and comes to the spot, slightly elevated over the rest of the land on his 15-or-so acres.

This is it.

This is where Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain oil pipeline crosses his farm.

This walk with a reporter on Feb. 18 came one day after Trans Mountain filed its written reply argument to the National Energy Board (NEB), marking the close of the hearing into the $6.8-billion expansion project, which will triple the capacity of the pipeline running 1,153 kilometres from the Alberta oil sands to Burnaby. It was first built in 1953 and purchased by Kinder Morgan Canada in 2005.

A landowner directly affected by the existing pipeline and even more so by the expansion, is Tuytel among those concerned about diluted bitumen flowing across his land, worried about spills in his creek or the aquifer, or the broader issues of climate change and oil use?

Not a bit.

“Kinder Morgan is definitely doing all their due diligence in addressing everybody’s concerns,” he said.

“I think it’s approved by most of the landowners.”

Tuytel is, he thinks, among a silent majority of B.C. residents directly affected by the pipeline who are both in favour of the expansion project for broader economic reasons, but also who are fans of how the company treats them.

He talks of Larry, a company representative who comes by with “goodie bags” around Christmas. The company checks for encroachments on the right-of-way with frequent helicopter flights. And he said they also do ground inspections and, internally, run an electrical current through the 63-year-old pipe to stop it from eroding.

Then there is the response he’s received from the company even when he has had issues.

“They basically do everything you ask them to,” he said.

Tuytel points to a situation last year that really showed him how responsive the company is. Back when it was built, the company essentially dug a trench, laid down pipe, and covered it up with what was dug out, mixing the layers from precious topsoil to gravel.

So Tuytel used a de-rocker last year to separate out the gravel on the 20-metre wide strip, then Trans Mountain came in, removed the gravel and put dozens of dump truck loads of pristine topsoil to match the rest of the farm.

The cost? He doesn’t know, but he estimates given they were running double dump trucks for two weeks, using three flaggers to ensure safe driving on the farm, if he were to do it himself it would have cost close to $20,000.

“It was very well done,” Tuytel said.

On top of that, Kinder Morgan owns the right-of-way where the pipeline exists, but landowners were paid such a paltry sum for that in 1953, Tuytel said the company is repurchasing at today’s values. The company will also rent out farmland that is cutoff by the pipeline right-of-way for a number of years.

Tutyel owns Cedarvale Nurseries, which is located at his Wilson Road farm, and Downrite Drilling, also in Chilliwack. (By way of caveat, it should be noted that his company has indirectly worked for Kinder Morgan on a project near the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby.)

He is in favour of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project as a net benefit for the province.

What does he think of those opposed to the project and increased pipelines in general?

“I kind of call them tree huggers,” Tuytel says, with a laugh.

In Yarrow, he says he doesn’t know any neighbours who have said anything against the pipeline project, except the folks at the Yarrow Ecovillage, who he calls “protest type of people.”

“I believe they are the only ones that are saying anything and I think those people are all from the pavement, not from the agricultural area,” he said. “They are just flapping and don’t really understand.”

The Yarrow Ecovillage was an intervenor in the NEB hearing process.

“The pipeline really threatens what we are doing here, in the big picture, in the whole picture,” one farmer stated in the ecovillage’s written argument. “It’s going to have a long-term cost in terms of what we do.”

And while Tuytel might be right that many or even most landowners are neutral or even positive about the expansion project, there has been a broad swath of residents, landowners, environmental groups, First Nations and municipal governments who have responded across the spectrum, from concern to outright opposition.

Even the pro-job, pro-industry BC Liberal government said it cannot support the expansion because Kinder Morgan has not provided details on how it will deal with oil spills.

Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) lawyer Maegen Giltrow said at the NEB hearing on Jan. 29: “It would not be in the public interest to allow the expansion project to be developed and operated at the expense of the local communities that would host the pipeline.”

A group of local First Nations calling itself the Sto:lo Collective expressed concern about pipeline and tank failure, as well as communications regarding spills and health hazards.

“When we ask too many questions they say that it is safe and treat us like we are illiterate.” the group said on Jan. 21. “Trans Mountain has shown a pattern of disregard for the interests of the members of the Sto:lo Collective.”

The City of Chilliwack was not a registered intervenor in the NEB hearings, although the City of Abbotsford was.

The NEB panel is expected to deliver its recommendation to the Canadian government by May 20, 29 months after Trans Mountain filed its 16,000-page application in 2013.

“We are confident we have demonstrated both the need for this project, providing much-needed market access, and our commitment to building and operating this pipeline to the highest standards while providing lasting benefits for all Canadians,” Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson said in a press release issued Feb. 17.

The company said that, if approved, the pipeline could be in service by December 2019.

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