Trans Mountain tank farm fire lanes not meeting the ‘basic minimum’: city

The tank farm fire lanes proposed by Trans Mountain meet BC Building Code requirements but not the city's fire services bylaw.



December 31, 2021 | 5:01 am

Burnaby’s fire chief is insisting the city’s fire access lane regulations are the “basic minimum standard” and should not be dismissed by the Canada Energy Regulator.

The comment came in an affidavit filed by Fire Chief Chris Bowcock on Dec 22 in response to an application by Trans Mountain. The application sought to skirt the city’s bylaws and instead to rely on BC Building Code standards in the expansion of its Burnaby Mountain tank farm.

In particular, the federally owned pipeline company wanted to rely on less stringent rules around the width of the fire services access lane and the turning radius. Burnaby bylaws require a lane width of at least 7.3m and a turning radius of 13m, while the Building Code requires only 6m and 13m.

A history of conflict

In its submissions, first reported by Burnaby Beacon in early December, Trans Mountain cited its experience with the City of Burnaby frustrating its work by taking too long with permitting. Earlier this year, the CER ruled that Trans Mountain could circumvent a section of Burnaby’s tree bylaw.

Trans Mountain argued the city is similarly arbitrarily bogging down the process to prevent work on the pipeline expansion.

But in his affidavit, first reported by National Observer, Bowcock said the refusal to provide permits on the basis of the fire lanes is about safety.

“As fire chief, I view these requirements as the basic minimum standard for commercial and industrial development projects,” he wrote.

“For developments with a higher level of fire risk, such as a storage site for hydrocarbons, I would prefer to see more robust fire access standards (wider fire lanes and turning radii).”

Bowcock wrote that he was speaking from 15 years of experience “working in all aspects of hydrocarbon facility emergency response and emergency management across North America.”

Trans Mountain is, as part of its pipeline expansion project, looking to add a dozen new tanks, on top of the 12 that already exist.

Because Trans Mountain has its own fire response plan for the tank farm, the Crown corporation argued it didn’t need to rely on Burnaby fire crews.

But Eugene Kung, a staff lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law, noted in an interview earlier this month that it’s “not like a fire is going to respect the property line of Trans Mountain when it’s raging out of control.”

Necessary for firefighters

And Bowcock wrote in his affidavit that the standards set out in local bylaws are “critically important.”

“In the context of industrial fire protection operations, and particularly hydrocarbon fire protection, the fire lanes within a facility represent the primary location on which vehicles and heavy-duty firefighting equipment is set up, and where firefighting personnel are deployed,” he said.

In the event of a fire, he said, firefighters could be put at unnecessary risk of serious injury or even death if they don’t have enough staging space in the fire lane. Bowcock said he saw “multiple potential tank fire scenarios” that would be “unextinguishable due to lack of safe firefighting positions.”

And he pointed to the fact that Trans Mountain has committed to fulfilling all applicable codes and standards around its expansion project. This was one of the conditions of the Liberal government’s approval of the pipeline expansion.

“The fire lane standards in Burnaby’s fire services bylaw are clear and unambiguous, and it is surprising that they were either overlooked or disregard … at earlier stages of site planning,” Bowcock said.

“I do not see ‘site constraints’ that would render fire lane widening, or other modification to meet Burnaby fire access standards, impracticable. … In my view, Trans Mountain has not demonstrated that it is unable to meet the fire lane standards.”

‘The city’s bylaws are reasonable’

In its response to Trans Mountain’s application, filed on Dec 23 by the law firm Ratcliff, the city said it is “prepared to grant the subject building permits … if TM complies with the bylaws and supplies the proper information.”

“The sole remaining issue of significance is compliance with the fire services bylaw,” the city noted.

“Burnaby recognizes and accepts that the terminals have federal approval and that it may not reject permits if it has the effect of fundamentally impairing the project or if there is an impossibility of compliance.”

With that in mind, the city said the constitutional question—whether the city is impeding the federal government’s supremacy—“does not arise here.”

“The city’s bylaws are reasonable, constitutionally valid, and there is no frustration or impossibility of compliance,” reads the city’s submission.

“It is Trans Mountain’s failure to follow the fire services bylaw and building bylaw that has prevented the issuance of permits, and it is Trans Mountain resistance to following these city obligations that has led to any time delays.”

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Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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