The city of New Westminster has reiterated its opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline over concerns the line, which crosses the Fraser River, would have catastrophic effects on people and wildlife in the event of a spill.
Earlier this month, city council voted 4-2 on a motion to convey its concerns in a letter to the Canada Energy Regulator.
“A lot of this motion was getting our opposition on the record,” Coun. Nadine Nakagawa told Canada’s National Observer in a phone interview.
Nakagawa’s motion was supported by Mayor Patrick Johnstone, Coun. Ruby Campbell and Coun. Tasha Henderson. The two opposed were Coun. Daniel Fontaine and Coun. Paul Minhas. Minhas and Fontaine did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.
The July 19 letter to the regulator highlights "concerns about the structural safety of the TMX pipeline crossing of the Fraser River from Surrey to Coquitlam, B.C."
If an oil spill occurred, it “would be catastrophic,” both for the Fraser River ecosystem — including spawning salmon — and the community’s well-being, said Nakagawa.
“The city of New Westminster is built on the shores of the Fraser River. It is a historic gathering place for First Nations, it is the focal point of our community.”
She says the “basis of the motion is just to speak up against it every chance that we get.”
The City of New Westminster has stood firm in its opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX) over the years. The city was an intervenor throughout the National Energy Board’s approval process for TMX in 2015, and has characterized that process as “flawed” in press releases. In 2020, the city issued a statement of support for land defenders peacefully protesting the project, and council constantly raises concerns that the TMX project is at odds with Canada’s global climate commitments.
Continually stating city council's opposition to #TMX is "really, really important even if it's not going to change the federal government's decision to keep pushing this forward,” said New Westminster Coun. @NadineNakagawa. #TransMountain
“We have to be consistent in the way that we approach the climate crisis,” said Nakagawa, adding Canada can’t meet its climate targets while building pipelines. At a city council level, she says it’s common for people to say “I support that, but” or “I disagree with that, but.” To her, “you either agree with Trans Mountain as a concept, or you do not,” and if you do, “we can’t pretend that we care about climate and environment impacts.”
Not everyone on city council agrees with Nakagawa on the issue.
“The pipeline is almost built. None of it is going through our jurisdiction,” said Fontaine, one of two councillors who voted against the motion, the New Westminster Record reported. “As was noted previously, we don’t really have any influence; this motion can pass or not pass. It will mean absolutely nothing. It really is symbolic.”
While the project doesn’t go through New Westminster's jurisdiction, council has pointed out on many occasions that the pipeline will run through the Brunette River watershed and adjacent to the Fraser River.
Nakagawa says voicing the council's opposition firmly on the record is important, as is working in solidarity with First Nations who have opposed the project. The Squamish Nation, Coldwater Indian Band and Tsleil-Waututh Nation tried, unsuccessfully, to challenge the project’s approval in court, and the Tsleil-Waututh Nation is currently involved in a regulatory dispute regarding the increased tolls Trans Mountain wants to charge oil producers to use the expanded pipeline system.
“In years to come, they might say, ‘Well, nobody opposed it’ … so I think continuing to speak up and say we don't consent to this, we don't agree to this, we don't want it, is really, really important even if it's not going to change the federal government's decision to keep pushing this forward,” said Nakagawa.
If there does happen to be a spill, voicing their opposition will be a cold comfort, she said, but insists “we just have to continue to talk about the fact that pipelines do spill (and) they have devastating impacts on communities.”
Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer