As Trans Mountain marks 50% construction done on pipeline, activists reconsider tactics
Work in Burnaby has included the removal of hundreds of trees in the Brunette River area—trees that opponents often occupied to block pipeline work.
Trans Mountain is celebrating the 50% completion milestone for its pipeline expansion project that ends in Burnaby.
As of March 2022, the project, now estimated to cost $21.4 billion, was halfway complete—including 412 kilometres of pipe in the ground, 574km of the pipeline right-of-way stripped and graded, 471km of pipe welded, and 32 “major trenchless crossings” completed.
“We are proud to celebrate the halfway mark of the Trans Mountain expansion project. The way we are constructing this project reflects a new approach to building major projects in Canada,” said Rob Van Walleghem, interim president of Trans Mountain, in a news release.
The federal Crown corporation has in the past told Burnaby Beacon the project is over 55% complete, but in a statement yesterday, the company said that figure had included pre-construction activities “such as regulatory approvals.”
The 50% milestone reached in March, meanwhile, refers only to construction work, Trans Mountain said.
But one anti-Trans Mountain activist said reaching the halfway mark in 2022 is hardly an achievement when the pipeline was originally slated to be operational more than two years ago.
When Kinder Morgan originally applied, in 2013, to build its pipeline expansion, the aim was to begin construction in 2017 and have it completed by December 2019.
Various issues have pushed that date back, including protests along the pipeline route and legal challenges with varying degrees of success. Most notably, several First Nations along the pipeline route were successful in delaying construction after arguing they weren’t adequately consulted.
However, after redoing consultations and re-approving the project, federal courts dismissed ensuing lawsuits by those First Nations.
Earlier this year, Trans Mountain, now a Crown corporation owned by the federal government, pushed back its construction schedule even further. The project had been slated to be in operation by the end of this year, but Trans Mountain confirmed it would need to push “mechanical completion” back to the third quarter of 2023.
It’s unclear how long after mechanical completion it would take for the pipeline to be in service.
Trans Mountain added its overall cost estimates soared from $12.6 billion in 2020 to $21.4 billion. And even that 2020 figure was up significantly from the 2017 estimate of $7.4 billion.
“I think celebrating that it’s still half-incomplete at this point is just an example of them putting a positive spin on something that’s actually dreadfully behind schedule and over budget,” said Sara Ross, with Protect the Planet Stop TMX.
Included in the 50% that has been completed, however, is the removal of 1,308 trees in the Brunette River area, after Trans Mountain successfully applied to remove the trees last year.
The removal of those trees takes with them one form of protest that had been prominently used in Burnaby since summer 2020—occupying trees in the path of the pipeline.
For well over a year, various trees in the Brunette River area were occupied by various anti-pipeline demonstrators, blocking workers from removing trees in the pipeline route.
Several individuals were arrested as part of those actions.
“Those trees are down. There’s no more birds’ nests that are gonna stand in their way,” Ross said, referring to an Anna’s hummingbird nest that was destroyed last spring, leading to a months-long stop work order from Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Ross said that means opponents of the pipeline are considering how they can continue their efforts on the ground in Burnaby to continue obstructing work on the pipeline.
“I don’t think we know, yet, what it looks like,” Ross said, though she did note that PPSTMX activists blocked the entrance to the Burnaby Terminal on Burnaby Mountain last week.
The Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s Sacred Trust Initiative also hosted a protest against the pipeline at the Vancouver Art Gallery last week.
“I think we’re going to see a much more organized opposition. I think probably by the beginning of May we’ll start to see what that looks like,” she said.
Ross said she couldn’t comment further on what that included.