Gas line work to begin in Coquitlam as mayor suggests taking fight with FortisBC to court
Drivers in Coquitlam have one more day of free reign before construction nightmares begin on Como Lake Avenue on Monday.
That’s when FortisBC will begin the next phase of its massive gas line replacement project that’s already caused months of traffic delays and lost business in Burnaby and Vancouver since the summer of 2018.
The mayor of Coquitlam has already gone on record with his unhappiness that his city will face that same fate. But on Sunday, he said he may end up taking Fortis to court over the utility’s plans to leave the old pipeline in the ground along with the new one.
“We’re looking at the next step, which could be a legal option, but we consider them to be in trespass,” Richard Stewart said. “Once they turn the gas off, it’s no longer a pipeline. They’ve broken it up into sections so it’s now stored pipe.
“We have no problem with a pipeline. Just don’t leave your garbage behind.”
WATCH: (Aired Jan. 18) Richard Stewart talks with Sonia Sunger about his complaints with the FortisBC gas line upgrades
The 60-year-old natural gas line, which runs a 20-kilometre stretch from Vancouver to Coquitlam, is being replaced with a larger, 30-inch pipeline to meet the growing demand in the Lower Mainland.
Vancouver also saw Fortis leave the old pipe behind after installing the new line underneath East First Avenue. The same operation is currently underway in Burnaby along Lougheed Highway.
The problem with doing the same in Coquitlam, the mayor argues, is that the city simply can’t accommodate more infrastructure underground.
“In Vancouver, First Avenue is a corridor for utilities but so is Second Avenue, Third Avenue, Fourth Avenue. We don’t have those parallel roads,” Stewart said.
“Como Lake Avenue is the only continuous road east-west through our community, and therefore it’s completely congested with underground utilities: water pipes, sewer pipes, fibre optics. BC Hydro is installing a second duct for electric power. There’s no room left.”
WATCH: Coverage of the FortisBC gas line upgrades on Globalnews.ca
Stewart said the city has raised the issue with the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC), along with its earlier argument that Fortis should repave the sections of Como Lake Avenue “curb to curb” rather than just the two centre lanes it will be ripping up for the replacement work. He said the commission is holding off on making a decision as it conducts a review.
But the mayor doesn’t have a lot of faith in the process.
“We suspect [the commission] is not going to give very much weight to the costs associated with taxpayers,” Stewart said. “BCUC’s role is to minimize costs for ratepayers and shareholders of FortisBC, not the taxpayers, not societal costs.”
FortisBC spokesperson Grace Pickell said leaving the old gas line in place allows crews to finish construction as quickly as possible to minimize the effect on drivers and businesses and that the old pipe would be removed if a new utility project required its removal.
WATCH (Aired Feb. 6): Vancouver businesses launch court action against FortisBC
She also wouldn’t speculate on any decision the BCUC might make in the dispute with Coquitlam, saying only that Fortis argues what the city is asking goes overboard.
“It’s above and beyond what we’ve done with any other municipality, and it goes above and beyond what’s in our existing operating agreement with the city,” Pickell said
Stewart said he’s spoken with Attorney General David Eby about updating the commission’s mandate to reflect taxpayer concerns. Requests for comment from the Ministry of Justice weren’t returned Sunday.
The mayor said he’s also raised the issue of the old pipe with the president of Fortis, who, according to the mayor, was “taken aback” by the argument.
Pickell confirmed that meeting took place last week, but could not comment on what was discussed or the president’s reaction to Stewart’s comments.
As for drivers, construction on Como Lake Avenue between North Road and Mariner Way is expected to last for several months, wrapping up later this year. No clear time table is in place.
Starting Monday, lane closures will begin from North Road to Robinson Street. Westbound traffic on Como Lake Avenue between Robinson Street and Gatensbury Street will be restricted to local traffic, buses and emergency services.
Later this spring, Gatensbury Street to Linton Street will see the same restrictions as work moves east towards Mariner Way.
—With files from Grace Ke, Robyn Crawford and John Hua
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