City powerless in pipeline proposal, says expert

The new proposed alignment of a jet fuel pipeline. -
The new proposed alignment of a jet fuel pipeline.
— image credit:

Just how much power does the City of Richmond have to bar a proposal to build a jet fuel pipeline under the middle of the city?

According to a University of B.C. law professor, the city doesn’t have a leg to stand on even if the pipeline was built directly beneath city-owned land.

Anthony F. Sheppard, a real property law professor at UBC’s law department, said as long as the pipeline doesn’t impact a property owner’s “reasonable use and enjoyment” of the land, there’s nothing barring the pipeline’s underground construction.

A person who owns a piece of property in theory also owns the airspace directly above it, as well as the ground below it.

But that landowner’s real property rights only extend as far as the reasonable use and enjoyment of that land, he said.

So as far as the pipeline running beneath city-owned rights of way, those “reasonable uses” might only extend as far as a few feet deep, in order to lay sewer, water and electrical lines, as well as what’s necessary to support the road bed.

Similarly, while many local property owners may not like airplanes flying directly overhead, as long as the planes don’t buzz their rooftops, that’s permissible.

But Sheppard noted he’s not an expert in constitutional law, and there may be other avenues to explore along those lines.

Meanwhile, VAPOR, the local group opposing the pipeline plan, expressed its disappointment with the recently-announced preferred Highway 99 route by the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation.

“All the other highly unacceptable aspects of their proposal such as the frequent oil tanker traffic to an offloading terminal and storage in a tank farm which poses a great risk to the Fraser River and its estuary, the large populations of fish and wildlife and property and public safety has been left unmodified,” said Carol Day, chair of Vancouver Airport Pipeline Opposition for Richmond, in a news release.

The altered proposal, which now proposes to route the underground pipeline beneath Highway 99, is “totally unacceptable,” Day said in a press release.

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said Tuesday the new highway route doesn’t change the city’s position.

“We are opposed to the entire concept. We don’t want tankers coming up the river.”

Brodie said he believes there’s a conflict of interest in the water side analysis of the project that’s being done Port Metro Vancouver.

The analysis will look at the risks associated with an offloading and storage facility, but Brodie said it’s being conducted by the eventual landlord, Port Metro Vancouver, which stands to profit from the project should it be given approval.

“Surely we need an independent party doing the waterside analysis.”

Meanwhile, the consortium has also provided the city and the province’s environmental assessment office with a “third-party independent analysis” of the options currently under consideration.

Golder Associates and Ausenco-Sandwell concluded that the option to build a jet fuel offloading terminal, develop a fuel tank farm, and build a 15-kilometre pipeline to Vancouver International Airport, had the “greatest number of indicators (80 per cent) rated as negligible or of minor concern.”

Next, at 70 per cent, was the option to develop a new jet fuel tank and barge loading facility on the north shore of Burrard Inlet, with a barge unloading facility on the south bank of the North Arm of the Fraser, and a short pipeline connecting to the existing tank farm at the airport.

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