Channel Watch demands inquiry

July 8, 2009

By Malcolm Baxter - Kitimat Northern Sentinel

A newly-formed group in Kitimat isn’t opposed per se to the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal.

But its chairman, Dieter Wagner, says it does have a big problem with the current regulatory approval process.

Saying the National Energy Board (NEB) essentially “rubber stamps everything”, he said Douglas Channel Watch wants, “at a minimum”, a full public inquiry.
Wagner pointed out that is exactly what took place in the mid-1970s, the last time an oil port was proposed for Kitimat.

Recalling that the oil companies dropped that proposal before the Thompson Inquiry was completed, he added the federal Environment minister of the day said that if the proposal ever came up again, the inquiry should be revived.

Asked what the difference would be between a public inquiry and the current system which requires approvals from both the NEB and the Canadian Environment Assessment Agency, Wagner explained an inquiry would involve sworn testimony on all aspects of the project.

In other words, while the current process simply decides how the project will proceed, an inquiry focuses on whether it should go ahead at all.  “That’s a big difference.”

Wagner then zeroed in on concerns about the large oil tankers that would ply coastal waters and the Douglas Channel if the oil port proceeded.

On the outside waters, he pointed out that years ago wave measuring buoys were installed between the Queen Charlotte Islands and northern Vancouver Island “and they actually measured waves in excess of 100ft.”

As for the channel run up to Kitimat, Wagner said the northern route would take tankers into shallow waters. “I think there is only an area two miles wide where the water is deep enough.”
The channel is also full of rocks.

“The dangers are incredible,” he maintained, adding it was not a question of whether there would be an accident, but when.

Turning to the June 18-19 inaugural meeting of the Marine Community Advisory Board put together by Enbridge and held at the Kitimat Valley Institute, Wagner said, “We kind of took it apart.”

Although not on the original list of invitees, he said Douglas Channel Watch had secured an invitation but showed up with “a lot of people who didn’t have an invitation”.

He said initially Enbridge had not wanted to let these extra people in, but relented after “we made a hell of a fuss.”

They were also able to get an opportunity for a West Coast Environmental Law lawyer to make a 20-minute presentation on the Thompson Inquiry.

But when Enbridge proposed simply adding an inquiry to the list of issues to be considered, “That was not good enough for us,” Wagner said.

Enbridge was then asked for a commitment in writing that it would consider an inquiry and when it declined to do so, “we just walked out”.

Wagner recalled he had said at the meeting that if there was a public inquiry and it found Northern Gateway to be safe, “then I haven’t got a choice and will accept that.”

However, he added, “no-one thinks it is safe”.

Douglas Channel Watch is now launching a petition for an inquiry and will eventually forward the results to the appropriate federal government ministers.

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