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Chilliwack parents have questions about oil pipeline and school safety

Michelle Cooper with her three children, left to right, 11-year-old Holly, 10-year-old Ostara, and eight-year-old Tyr on Watson elementary
Michelle Cooper with her three children, left to right, 11-year-old Holly, 10-year-old Ostara, and eight-year-old Tyr on Watson elementary's field above the Trans Mountain oil pipeline.
— image credit: Paul J. Henderson

When Michelle Cooper’s three children play in their school yard, they and their classmates are sometimes right above a buried 30-inch pipe that carries Alberta oil sands crude to the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby.

Kinder Morgan’s 1,150-kilometre Trans Mountain oil pipeline runs right underneath Watson elementary’s school yard and right behind Vedder middle school’s.

The pipe has been there without incident (in Chilliwack) for 60 years, but Cooper and many parents know little about it.

As news coverage has increased over Kinder Morgan’s application to the National Energy Board (NEB) to triple the capacity of the pipeline by adding a second 36-inch pipe, so too has interest from parents like Cooper wondering if they should be concerned.

“There are 400-odd kids in this school,” Cooper said. “What about the school? What is the emergency protocol? What happens if there is an accident or a problem?”

All good questions that she said neither Watson administration nor the schools Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) are answering to her satisfaction.

“I’ve been getting the runaround the whole time.”

Kinder Morgan posted a message about pipeline safety and schools on its website a year ago.

“Living or being active near our pipeline does not pose a health risk,” the message said, in part.

“Where the pipeline runs near schools, we are open to working with individual schools or districts to fully support their safety efforts and ensure their emergency response plans and ours are co-ordinated.”

Retired Unsworth elementary teacher Wendy Major is part of a working group backed by the B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) looking to get the word out about the route of the pipeline.

The group has “red-flagged” four schools in Chilliwack as being within 200 metres of the pipeline and a further 15 that are “black-flagged” as “within blocks” of the route.

The other two close schools include Unsworth and John Calvin elementary, and where the route crosses Tyson Road is pretty close to 200 metres away from Mt. Slesse.

Major has helped to organize a free public meeting at Sardis secondary on Thursday to discuss the pipeline and the safety hazards if there were ever to be a spill.

“Spills from [diluted bitumen] pipelines like the one running through our community have proven to have serious negative impacts to the health of other afflicted communities, particularly on the children,” Major said in a press release.

While the existing pipeline runs under Watson’s sports field, and the company says it wants to use the existing right-of-way wherever possible for the second line, recently proposed routing changes shows Watson would be avoided.

The changed route through that portion of Sardis would run along the hydro right-of-way avoiding not only the elementary school but also the backyards of homes on Roseberry and Montcalm.

Interestingly for residents of Popkum, another routing change shows a section previously to run near Cheam Lake Wetlands Regional Park north of the highway has been changed to follow the original pipeline corridor south of the highway.

This would mean it would run through the northwest corner of Bridal Veil Falls Provincial Park, a park that didn’t exist when the Trans Mountain Pipeline was built in 1952.

• The meeting is Thursday, June 5 at 7 p.m. at Sardis secondary’s MacAstocker Theatre.

For details on the project from Kinder Morgan including a link to an interactive routing map visit www.transmountain.com. And for information on other schools near the pipeline between Hope and Burnaby visit www.pipe-up.net.

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