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A question of jurisdiction

County of Barrhead resident says municipality needs to hold energy companies more accountable for weed control
cropped-Terry Finch, Oct. 6
County of Barrhead resident Terry Finch, pictured here at an October 2020 council meeting, believes the municipality needs to do more to hold energy companies accountable for their shoddy weed control.

BARRHEAD – A County of Barrhead resident has a weed issue on his farm, and he attributes much of the problem to the activity of an energy company. 

More specifically, Terry Finch, who spoke before council via Zoom at the Sept. 6 meeting, asked what the county is doing to hold energy and other industry players to account for weed management. 

In 2015, he said, Pembina Pipeline Corporation approached several area landowners, including himself, saying the company needed a portion of their land for a pipeline project. 

"They came in and mulched topsoil in high winds and spread dirt across our lands," Finch said, adding the result is a weed issue for several tracts of land. "Pembina refuses to rectify this. Canadian thistle has overrun their right-of-way. It is affecting neighbouring lands."  

Despite making several complaints to the company and the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) about the weed problem on Pembina Pipeline's right-of-way, he said the company has done nothing to reclaim their property or control the weeds. 

The AER is the province’s energy regulating body. Its mandate is for the safe, efficient, orderly, and environmentally responsible development of oil, oil sands, natural gas, and coal resources over their entire life cycle. This includes allocating and conserving water resources, managing public lands, and protecting the environment. 

This was not the first time Finch has asked the county to hold energy companies accountable for the damage he said were causing. In June 2017, he appeared before the council to ask the county to take action against what Pembina Pipelines (and its contractors) were doing to area roads, especially in Divisions 1 and 2. 

He added that he has several e-mails from the company admitting they had a failure of their weed prevention protocols, and yet he said Pembina Pipeline still seems unwilling to take responsibility for cleaning up the problem. 

"I am attending council to see what our protocols are and what our options as constituents and landowners are on a county level," he said, adding he realizes there are other regulatory bodies involved, such as the previously mentioned AER.  

Finch suggested the municipality must have standards that companies must adhere to such as an environmental protection plan or a policy "before them being allowed to enter on any county lands." 

"(It's obvious) that the county hasn't followed up on what industry has done or the protocols that were in place," he said. 

Reeve Doug Drozd asked administration if there were similar complaints from other residents. 

Agricultural fieldman Kyle Meunier said they had not received any other complaints but admitted that Canadian thistle is particularly troublesome this year. 

"Not just our county, but everywhere," he said, adding the county does talk to industry but does so in general terms. "Because they are not the landowners — weed control is their responsibility." 

County manager Debbie Oyarzun agreed, adding that Alberta's Weed Control Act clearly defines who is responsible and the tools municipalities have at their disposal for weed control. 

"Ultimately, the landowner is responsible for the weeds on their land," she said. "The municipality, through having an Agricultural Services Board and Ag fieldman, is responsible for enforcing the legislation. We can only enforce (violations) on the landowner. Pembina is not the landowner, so we have no say." 

However, Oyarzun suggested the AER does have the necessary tools to enforce weed control complaints. 

"The landowner (in this case) has a contract with Pembina and what they are doing on their land. Whatever the complaint is, the landowner needs to report it to the AER," she said, adding the organization has a very comprehensive website tracking system to let complainants know the status of their complaint along with any actions the AER has taken. 

Drozd added the county is very active in weed control, listing a number of tools the municipality makes available to landowners combating a weed problem. 

Finch argued the county needed to do more to hold the energy industry responsible, noting the municipality receives revenue for the pipelines in the county regardless of who owns the property. 

"The county is making a profit on our land and you are saying it is up to the landowner to clean up the mess? How does that make sense?" he asked. "I understand there is legislation, but don't you think we should be looking into a policy to ensure the landowner is not responsible since the county is receiving revenue, yet you are putting it back on the landowner." 

Drozd replied that while municipalities do receive linear taxation from pipelines, powerlines, and other property classifications, the land is still the asset of the landowner and their responsibility. 

"Just because there is a pipeline under it doesn't make it our property," he said, reiterating that under the legislation, weed control is the landowner's responsibility. 

Drozd then asked if Finch had made an official complaint to the AER. 

Finch said he had spoken with the AER and Pembina Pipelines and when he refused to sign another extension with the company, after which they went to the Land and Property Rights Tribunal and were granted temporary access. 

Drozd said that while he understood Finch's frustration, the county did not have jurisdiction over energy companies for weed control unless they were the owners of the land. He suggested that Finch go back to the AER or through civil court. 


Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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