Enbridge panel hears from First Nations during Terrace stop

The area’s two Tsimshian First Nations voiced concern about aspects of the planned Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline.

~By Lauren Benn, Terrace Standard

The area’s two Tsimshian First Nations voiced concern about aspects of the planned Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline during an environmental approval hearing here Jan. 12.

Speaking to several hundred people gathered at the Terrace sportsplex, members of the Kitsleas First Nation’s resource management department and its policy advisor laid out problems they said are associated with the intended pipeline route.

As now planned, the Northern Gateway pipeline would go through 110km of traditional Kitselas territory, about 10 per cent of the entire pipeline length from Alberta to a Kitimat marine export terminal.

In accordance with Kitselas policy, an independent technical and scientific study on the project is currently underway, set to be finished by year’s end.

“The Kitselas are not convinced at this stage of our assessment that project-related and potential  cumulative impacts to this area… can be adequately mitigated,” said Chris Knight, a senior policy advisor to the Kitselas.

“It’s clear that the inherent extremes of terrain and weather… represent a risky development.”

He said that after reviewing materials from Enbridge, the Kitselas are not yet satisfied that sufficient planning has gone into project details specific to the region, noting that not only does this “small corner of the world” have the top-quality fish, water and natural resources, but also unique geological factors.

These include the highest density of stream crossings, highest precipitation and highest stream and peak discharges of a region prone to floods and landslides – with delicate eco-balances that are hard to restore, said Knight.

“It may be the most challenging area of the entire pipeline,” added Knight. “(Should a leak happen) it can take centuries or millenniums to recover.”

Impacts other than spills, like road upgrades and tunnel construction, were listed as concerns with damage to wildlife habitat and impacts of waste rock sites cited as examples.

“Tunnels and implications of the tunnels have never been fully engaged,” said Terry Collins from the Kitselas resource management department.

Kitsumkalum chief councillor Don Roberts concentrated on the impact of resource development on the environment and on humans.

Using a visual presentation, he sketched out the natural resources resident in the area.

Potential impacts  on resources and wildlife from the Northwest coastal region as well as from the Skeena River and area were listed in detail: salmon, berries, bears, crab, herrings, herring eggs, halibut, cod, seaweed, sea cucumber, shrimp and prawns, eagles, killer whales, and more.

Special attention was give to the eulachon, a small oily fish sensitive to mere degree or sand-texture fluctuations in water,  that Roberts used to connect the presentation.

“It’s the main part of our culture,” said Roberts. “It’s used in everything.”

Maps of river systems were used, depicting how quickly spilled oil could travel into river systems within Kitsumkalum territory – showing impact isn’t specific to pipeline or tanker routes.

Should a spill happen, not only would it damage resources that provide food, cultural and economic benefits but expensive equipment like fishing boats would be unusable, said Roberts.

The presentation also brought with it a human element, showing fishermen, feasts, young adults curing fish, and other cultural cornerstones which would be affected should a spill occur.

Roberts said the coastal Tsimshian nations all have territories that “will never be surrendered.”

“The government is bordering on infringement on our aboriginal title and rights,” said Roberts. “We are not saying no to industry, we are saying no to Enbridge crude oil.”

Last to present was the Metis Nation of BC, representing its Terrace community, which said that potential spill-damage to resources is of top concern.

“Our well-being is so connected,” said Metis Nation of BC director Gary Ducommun.

“If we lose access to our resources, which our culture depends on, it will damage our spiritual health which will damage our physical and mental health.”

“If the government was going to come along and lead the cultural genocide of an aboriginal people … no one in Canada would support that.”

Ducommun said that Metis people prefer hunting and trapping to the grocery store – and acknowledged geotechnical challenges brought forth in Kitselas’ presentation.

He said a traditional land usage study would be complete in March and only then will the Metis people say if they are on board with the project.

Of the three presenters, only the Kitsumkalum declared a firm  and immediate “no” to the Enbridge  project.

Terrace was just the second location for the federal environmental hearings which are scheduled to last as long as 18 months.

The three-member panel includes Sheila Leggett, a vice-chair of the National Energy Board, Kenneth Bateman, an energy lawyer and former executive in the energy sector and Hans Matthews who is a geologist with a background in mining, minerals and resource management.

The Jan. 12 hearing was the first of two community hearings in Terrace which will collect information.

“We’re here to listen,” said Leggett at Terrace’s first hearing.

Final hearings are tentatively slated for September, and will involve questioning and cross examination.

The Joint Review Panel is an independent body tasked with the  approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline Project based on whether or not it is in the public interest.