Tuesday, September 16, 2014
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Landowner objects to TransCanada’s confidentiality agreement

Its ‘desire to muzzle us is unacceptable’

By Sheila Pratt, Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON - Michele Mitchell keeps a couple dozen horses and some cattle on her 17 hectares of land that TransCanada wants to cross with its proposed 900,000 barrels-a-day Grand Rapids pipeline.

Though two pipelines already cross her property near Radway, no company has ever asked her to sign a confidentially agreement until TransCanada came along, she told a regulator hearing Wednesday.

Mitchell challenged those agreements, saying they “muzzle” landowners who should be free to have open discussion of issues affecting their land.

“I find the non-disclosure agreements insulting,” she told the hearing into the proposed Grand Rapids project involving twin pipelines from Fort McMurray to the Edmonton area.

“We need to have open discussion and TransCanada’s desire to muzzle us is unacceptable,” said Mitchell, adding “this is Canada.”

Mitchell also raised the case of the northern Ontario town of Mattawa which signed such an agreement last month to “not publicly comment on TransCanada’s operations or business projects” as part of a contract that saw TransCanada donate a $30,000 emergency fire services vehicle.

Mitchell also asked the panel to consider the National Energy Board audit of TransCanada pipelines that showed the company is not in compliance with federal rules in a number of areas, including hazard identification and risk assessment.

TransCanada lawyer Lars Olthaus told the panel the company had offered an alternative dispute resolution process to try to resolve the differences with Mitchell.

But Mitchell did not want to participate in another closed door process, she confirmed.

“It’s about the transparency, I want people to know what’s going on,” she said.

Meanwhile, Robert Berrien, an expert witness in utility and pipeline routes who has participated in 1,000 regulator hearings, had harsh words for TransCanada’s proposed route (Route A) that runs through Fort Saskatchewan and criticized the company’s analysis.

“These are the worst set of maps I’ve ever seen,” said Berrien, noting they are mostly too small to be readable for the public.

For instance, the company identified three wetlands on its route, but Berrien said he counted 10 wetlands on the chosen route.

A second option, Route B further east, has only five wetlands, avoids urban areas and has a lower impact, follows existing disturbances on the land. “Route B is superior,” he said.

Earlier in the day, TransCanada said it intends to “continue to engage” with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation which pulled out of the hearing late Tuesday.

“We are disappointed the ACFN has chosen to stop taking part in this hearing” and the company will “ensure” the band is kept informed and will try to mitigate its concerns,” said the release.

The hearing panel has the power to make a decision on the pipeline project, despite the absence the ACFN, AER spokesperson Darin Barter said.

But without the ACFN participation, the panel cannot make reference to their specific concerns when it makes its decision, he added.

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