The Trans Mountain oil pipeline runs through the back field of Watson elementary and also Vedder middle school. (Paul J. Henderson/ Black Press file)

The Trans Mountain oil pipeline runs through the back field of Watson elementary and also Vedder middle school. (Paul J. Henderson/ Black Press file)

Chilliwack school district opposes oil pipeline route through school yards

Existing Trans Mountain pipeline and proposed expansion under Watson elementary and Vedder middle

It was down to the wire, but the Chilliwack school district decided Thursday evening to send a written statement of opposition to the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project (TMX) route to the National Energy Board (NEB).

The existing oil pipeline runs through the school yards at Vedder middle school and Watson elementary in Sardis, and runs close to Mt. Slesse middle school and Unsworth elementary.

On August 14, the school district received a notice of proposed detailed route for the TMX as affected landowners. The board was told that if they opposed the proposed detailed route, which will expand the current right-of-way from 18 metres to 42 metres through the school yards, they had 30 days to do so.

The first meeting of the board is scheduled for Sept. 17, after the 30 days, so a special regular public board meeting was called for Sept. 12, one day before the deadline, to consider the opposition letter.

The meeting was short and the board unanimously voted in favour of sending the written statement of opposition specifically regarding the proposed route.

Absent, however, were Trustee Heather Maahs and Trustee Darrel Furgason who may have voted against that decision as they have expressed support for the pipeline in the past.

In June, the board approved a motion by Trustee David Swankey to write a letter to the NEB supporting an alternate route away from local schools. Trustees Jared Mumford, Willow Reichelt, Dan Coulter and Barry Neufeld supported the move.

Maahs and Furgason voted against it.

“The existing pipelines have been there since 1947 without incident, so I’m just concerned that we are making statements and making requests about things that we really don’t understand,” Maahs said back in June.

“I don’t know that we ought to join a bandwagon, which is to holler about potential disasters,” Furgason said. “There are groups already doing that across the country… ‘Don’t route through my native territory or my band territory,’ yet it’s going to happen because the federal government has the power to do this.”

Instead, he says the school district should “not to get in the way of development.”

“It’s been safe so far. There’s no reason to become paranoid.”

• READ MORE: Chilliwack trustees divided on Trans Mountain pipeline route near two schools

The City of Chilliwack has also expressed opposition to the proposed route, not because of the schools but because of the proximity to the Sardis-Vedder aquifer, the source for drinking water for the entire municipality.

• READ MORE: City of Chilliwack strongly opposed to oil pipeline near aquifer

After the Sept. 12 meeting, during the question period, Chilliwack Teachers’ Association vice-president Danielle Bennett asked if there was a plan to move children to an alternate location.

Director of facilities and transportation Allan Van Tassel responded that it would be highly dependent on the situation, and that generally the plan is to contain students in the school if there is an emergency as moving students to other locations creates difficulties.

“We always look at shelter in place. If that isn’t an option then we would move, and moving to a larger school nearby would be one of our options, yes.”

The issue of what would happen in the event of an oil spill in the school yard is nothing new. Five years ago, parent of three children Michelle Cooper expressed serious concern about the district’s plan in the event of an oil spill.

• READ MORE: Do Chilliwack schools have a plan for oil spills?

The first regular school board meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.

@PeeJayAitchpaul.henderson@theprogress.comLike us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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