Tuesday, January 28, 2014

 

 

Local News

Farm Furor

Spectra Energy accused of heavy-handed tactics

Released by CAEPLA

 

fter refusing to negotiate a contract with local farmers, Spectra Energy has asked the National Energy Board (NEB) to issue an order forcing landowners to allow construction on private property without a valid contract.

While Spectra enjoys an existing easement, their decades old government-granted privilege is hopelessly out of date in that it ignores several serious concerns landowners have.

Left unresolved, concerns raised by pipeline-affected farmers threaten to put fragile topsoil at risk, harm property values, and negatively impact food security and the agricultural economy locally.

The current easement being challenged by a number of Chilliwack area farmers does not address the regulated right to abandon decaying pipelines in place once the pipeline company is done with the pipe which leaves local farmers holding the bag in terms of liability for such things as historic environmental contamination, loss of property values, and operational hazards.

Landowners may be left vulnerable to lawsuits stemming from injury, damages to persons or property, even nonpayment to construction companies.

Adding insult to injury the NEB recently introduced new regulations requiring farmers to ask pipeline companies for permission before crossing installations on their own property.

"This is supposed to be in the name of safety -- but the real issue here is that some of the pipelines are too close to the surface, they should be buried to a depth of at least 4 feet of cover, so farmers can conduct normal farming practices," says Gordon Mitchell, chair of the Fraser Valley  Association of Pipeline Landowners (FVAPL). "This is all because the NEB relieves pipeline companies of the responsibility to enter into voluntary business agreements that would enforce strict safety measures," Mitchell adds.

The requirement for farmers to seek permission from intrusive pipeline companies in order to operate on their own property is part of a general downloading of liability onto landowners by the NEB.

"This has been part of a growing trend as the federal regulatory system breaks down," says Dave Core, CEO of the Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowners Associations (CAEPLA).

CAEPLA is assisting FVAPL in its efforts to bring Spectra Energy to the table to negotiate what the landowners group refers to as win-win business agreements.

"The system never worked well for landowners who have always been subject to expropriation and annual crop loss which means the pipeline companies can do pretty much whatever they want. But now the system isn't working for anybody landowners, the public, or the companies," Core explains.

"It is time for a new approach and we recommend voluntary business agreements governed by contract law," Core adds.

Another longstanding concern area farmers affected by Spectra pipe have involves the reckless handling of soil by pipeline companies enabled by the NEB.  This is an issue that directly impacts the future of family farm and food security in the Lower Mainland's high value agricultural economy and communities. Recent experience tells us that if you don't have a contract before they dig you will spend years and may never recover your costs of soil rehabilitation and crop losses, Mitchell says.

Not only does the failure to respect strict soil handling standards present a threat to the local environment "including vulnerable ground water" and farm industry, but refusal by NEB-protected pipeline companies to pay fair market value compensation for crop losses during and for years following construction harms our agricultural economy.

In the face of this strenuous opposition from Chilliwack farmers, Spectra later announced that it would delay the project until later this year.

Inexplicably, the NEB then issued an Order for landowners to allow access even though they knew construction had been postponed.

In light of the serious concerns outlined above and due to the confusion created by the Ottawa-based regulator, a majority of the affected Farm landowners asked the NEB to rescind their access order and the regulator has now issued a temporary stay on the order to consider comments from landowners.

"Just this past December, a report from Zbeetnoff Agro-Environmental Consultants on the damage to the soil on Greenarch Farms land resulting from an Integrity Dig performed in wet soil conditions in March of 2011, came out. The report clearly states that Spectra Energy's construction is the cause of the 100% crop loss in and around the construction zone for the past 3 years," Mitchell says.

This all took place under the watch of the NEB.  It is time for another approach and for Spectra to sit down with us.

"If the NEB isn't going to protect our farmland, our soil, British Columbia's food source, then we are left to protect it ourselves." Mitchell says.

 

Copyright (c) 2014 The Valley Voice