FortisBC planning for new gas line in New Westminster in 2021

FortisBC is considering two options for moving gas between New Westminster and Surrey.

Gord Shoberg, senior manager of municipal and community relations for FortisBC, recently told city council that work is underway as part of the Pattullo gas line replacement, with a new line to be constructed in New Westminster at the end of 2021.

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“FortisBC has a 20-inch diameter distribution gas line that exists on the underside of the existing Pattullo Bridge,” he said. “It was installed in the 1950s. It has been quietly been going about serving over 30,000 customers in the New Westminster, Burnaby and Coquitlam area since that time.”

A decision to build a replacement for the Pattullo Bridge and to decommission the existing bridge means FortisBC has to keep the gas flowing from Surrey towards New Westminster. Because of new design standards, Fortis is unable to install a gas line on the new bridge.

According to Shoberg, two horizontal directional drill options under the Fraser River are being considered.

“They have different impacts on the community,” he said. “That is why we have been out talking to a number of stakeholders, businesses, residents’ groups and others. We have been working with your city staff to start to explore which of these two options would be preferred.”

A “transmission pressure option” would require a drill worksite and a permanent station near Dufferin and Agnes streets in downtown New Westminster.

“It would require the installation of an above-ground permanent structure,” Shoberg said. “We haven’t even started exploring locations for that yet, but that would be a requirement of this particular option.”

A distribution pressure option – which is the type of gas line that currently exists on the Pattullo Bridge – would require a drill worksite and pipe layout along McBride Boulevard.

“It would affect traffic for some time,” Shoberg said.

Shoberg said a regulator station would be a fenced compound of approximately 10 metres by 20 metres in size, which would provide off-street parking for vehicles of employees who visit the site and a building of a size that’s yet to be determined.

“We have been told by your staff to work with the urban scape design that has been worked on with your staff and the ministry,” he said. “There is, of course, a lot of plans for a multi-use pathway and beautification around the area, so clearly we would need to design it in a way that would fit in to the urban landscape.”

Coun. Patrick Johnstone questioned if the facility has to be above ground or if it could be placed underground.

Shoberg said the facility has to be located above ground because it requires a heater so the gas doesn’t freeze.

“The heaters just can’t go underground,” he said. “The volume of gas that is required to move through the facility precludes it from being put underground.”

Johnstone expressed concern that the location of the facility could be problematic, as that’s a location where pedestrian and cyclist networks to the new bridge are likely to connect. In addition, he noted it will be located in a residential neighbourhood where people live so FortisBC will have to be “very sensitive” to what the building looks like.

“That’s a challenging spot,” he said.

Shoberg said a number of considerations will go into determining which option is preferred, including technical information, and community and Indigenous feedback.

“We have to look at other things – environmental, archeological aspects, cost – just the practicalities of design. These things would be drilled underneath TransLink – SkyTrain tunnels,” he said. “There’s a lot of technical expertise. We are just at the beginning of collecting now.”

If FortisBC chooses the transmission-pressure option, Shoberg said it would need to purchase land for the pressure-reducing station.

Jim Lowrie, the city’s director of engineering, said city staff has had preliminary discussions with FortisBC on the plan, which coincides with the work on replacement of the Pattullo Bridge and needs to be coordinated with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. As details become available, he said staff will report to council and recommend the city’s preferred option.

Melanie Kilpatrick, project director for Pattullo gas line replacement project, said FortisBC has started to reach out to stakeholders on the project.

“We are just ramping up now with our engagement, all in an effort to understand and get feedback on the two options,” she said. “Later in the summer we will be taking all that feedback, in addition to all the technical concerns associated with each option, and doing an evaluation and coming out with a preferred (option) towards the end of summer. Once we have our preferred option, we will do some public information sessions to obtain some further feedback.”

Kilpatrick said FortisBC will also be doing a geotechnical investigation program in the late summer or early fall, once a preferred option is determined. It hopes to file an application with the British Columbia Utilities Commission in late 2019, get its support and build a new gas line in late 2021.

Anyone wanting more information about the project can contact Fortis at talkingenergy.ca, 604-576-7208 and pattullogasline@fortisbc.com.

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