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Many hurdles yet for TMX

Barbara Gard calls her three-hectare property, nestled below the forested peak of Sumas Mountain, a "miniature Stanley Park." Its lush trees and flowing creek reminded her of Vancouver's majestic park, and she immediately knew she wanted to call it home.

But she said her peaceful retreat in Abbotsford now feels more like a nightmare. Gard is among thousands of landowners along the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion route who have not yet granted the Crown corporation access, and she said her dealings with the project's owners over the years have shattered her mental health.

"It's caused me emotional devastation," said Gard, a 64-year-old school psychologist on medical leave from work. "They are killing me through stress and legal fees."

Numerous hurdles remain before significant construction can begin on the massive project. Trans Mountain Corp. has not signed agreements with 33 per cent of landowners, no part of the detailed route has been approved, about half of the necessary permits are outstanding and it must meet dozens of conditions with the Canada Energy Regulator, formerly the National Energy Board.

Further, it faces resistance in southwest B.C., where landowners are digging in their heels, Indigenous groups are filing legal challenges and protesters are planning to ramp up activity.

The federal Liberal government bought the pipeline for $4.5 billion last year. The parliamentary budget officer has said that if the expansion is not complete by the end of 2021, it would be fair to conclude the government overpaid for the asset.

The government said the expanded pipeline will now be operational by mid-2022.

"If all goes according to the government's plan and hopes, then that is a realistic timeline," said David Wright, an assistant law professor with the University of Calgary. "But there's the significant caveat that not a lot has gone as hoped or planned from the government's perspective in the last couple years."

There are more than 2,500 tracts of private, Crown or Indigenous land to which Trans Mountain must gain access to build the expansion. As of July, some 1,730 — or 67 per cent — of owners had signed agreements granting the corporation entry.

Eighty-three per cent of landowners in Alberta and eastern B.C. have signed, but in the B.C. Interior and Fraser Valley, that number drops to 54 per cent. In the Lower Mainland, just 14 per cent of landowners have signed agreements.

The current Trans Mountain pipeline already runs through Gard's property. Her frustration with the pipeline's owners began in 2011, when she alleges workers sheared some 232 trees on her land, 80 of which they cut down entirely. The corporation denied any wrongdoing and the debate over the damage has dragged on for eight years, she said.

Gard said the corporation has not offered her fair compensation for the risk that the expansion poses to her property's delicate ecosystem or has it explained how it will restore vegetation and protect wildlife. The process feels extremely unbalanced, where she's facing off against the corporation's trained negotiators and legal team, she added.

Robin Scory, another landowner in the Fraser Valley who has not yet signed an agreement, said that the pipeline's owners have offered him "lowball" sums that are only a fraction of the property's value. Streams on his land run directly into the Fraser River and the corporation has not explained how it would mitigate the impacts of a spill, he said.

"It's a disaster waiting to happen. I'm not against the pipeline and I'm not a 'pay me millions of dollars' kind of guy, but it's just so badly run," Scory said.



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