Anti-pipeline talk dominates Kitimat hearing


The theme at the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel held at Kitimat’s Riverlodge Aug. 31-Sept. 2 was “no pipeline.”

Presenters were asked to comment on three topics – a draft list of issues, additional information Enbridge should be required to file, and the locations for oral hearings when they do take place.

But many of the speakers strayed from the intention of the hearing, preferring instead to use the time to state their opposition to the $5.5 billion project to run an oil pipeline from Alberta to a marine export terminal at Kitimat.

Speakers were a spectrum of Canadian society, First Nations peoples, representatives of community groups and politicians. Attendees included politicians from all three levels of government, locally, and from adjacent ridings and municipalities.

During the session, presenters expressed concerns about the project from environmental issues, First Nations’ questions about the way constitutionally guaranteed rights are dealt with, the priorities of the national energy policy, tar sands oil production and even the fundamental need for a pipeline at all.

Speakers, in expressing their concerns over potential leaks, breaches or spills, made reference to the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Exxon Valdez wreck in Prince William Sound. Also mentioned were the July 26, 2010 Enbridge pipeline leak in Michigan and fines paid by Enbridge for breaking environmental laws.

Outside, hundreds of people gathered Aug. 31 to protest the pipeline plans. Rally sponsors included Douglas Channel Watch, Friends of Wild Salmon and Coastal First Nations.

“The opposition to this project is massive and growing every day,” the event’s MC Gerald Amos from Kitamaat Village told the crowd.

First Nations groups, including the Haida, Metlakatla, Heiltsuk, Gitga’at, Kitasoo and Wuikinuxv Nations, have voiced their opposition.

“Due to the uncertainty associated with the transport of crude oil along our unpredictable northwest coast, the Village of Queen Charlotte has resolved that this project should not proceed…All Haida Gwaii municipalities stand together in opposition to Enbridge because the tradeoffs and risks involved are unacceptable,” said Kris Olsen, a municipal councillor with the Village of Queen Charlotte.

Local political representatives, North Coast MLA Gary Coons, Skeena MLA Robin Austin, and Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen, were also on hand to offer their opposition to the project.

Austin said he sailed the proposed oil tanker route a few months ago, and Douglas Channel into Kitimat is wide and straight enough to present little hazard.

But he joins coastal aboriginal groups in opposing the rest of the route out to open water, near where the B.C. Ferries Queen of the North went off course and sank in the Inside Passage.

“You look at the size of the tankers, and you see the narrowness of the turns, and you think, how in hell is this ever going to happen without an accident at some point?” Austin said. “I think it’s amazing that they even want to consider it.”

Cullen said too much risk for too little local benefit, a dismal track record of spills and broken promises, strong First Nations’ opposition and a flawed and biased review process are reasons to stop the project.

He said Enbridge is out of touch with the sustainable economic development demanded by local residents.

“The Enbridge plan would bring new and unnecessary risks to our coasts, our rivers and our $140 million wild salmon economy. It will also spur a massive increase in the destruction caused by Alberta tar sands production,” Cullen said.

Alan Roth, senior manager of communications for Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, later said that the session in Kitimat was meant to give people the opportunity to help design how the project should be reviewed.

A small group of Enbridge officials were in Kitimat last week for the sessions. “We’re just here to observe and listen to the community,” Roth said, adding that Enbridge has been involved with public consultation for more than the last three years and that there have been alterations to the line based on some comments. The next joint review panel public session starts today in Prince George.

An environmental assessment will be written for the federal environment minister once hearings are complete, and the panel will make a decision on the pipeline project after the ministry has commented.

-With files from Tom Fletcher, the Northern View, and the Kitimat Sentinel.

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