The City of Prince Rupert has released a draft of its written submission to the government hearings on the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, which are set top begin next month.
Boiled-down to its most basic message, the submission argues that Prince Rupert depends on a pristine marine environment too much to put it at risk – no matter how statistically small that risk is – by having oil tankers sailing out of Kitimat.
The submission itself is kept clean of any slights against Enbridge the company, nor does it point out any particular aspect or perceived flaws of the project that are cause for concern. Instead of arguing the moral responsibility of protecting the environment, they make their argument with the same tools that the energy company often makes theirs: economics.
The thrust of the City’s argument is that many of the existing industries in Prince Rupert depend on a clean marine environment for survival. Prince Rupert’s tourism for instance relies on it for everything from the nice views for drawing in tourists, to sports fishing and grizzly bear tours.
“Needless to say a Prince William Sound-esque (Exxon Valdez) oil spill would put much of the economic activity in jeopardy not to mention the destruction of marine habitat,” reads the draft submission.
The City also worries what an accident would mean for those who make their living from harvesting resources from the ocean.
“The harvesting of salmon, halibut, herring, crabs and a host of other marine species generates tens of millions of dollars into the Prince Rupert and regional economy. Historically, a clean marine environment has allowed Prince Rupert to literally generate billions of dollars in economic activity.”
The City also argues that First Nations people who live in Prince Rupert have a right to harvest the ocean for social, ceremonial and cultural purpose, a right they could not exercise if the waters off Prince Rupert were ever polluted. This, they fear, would have a profoundly negative effect on aboriginal communities.
“For time immemorial, Coastal First Nation peoples have depended on a clean marine environment to sustain their civilization. That dependency exists to this day even in our modern world.”
The City advocates that the National Energy Board’s joint review panel for assessing the pipeline project should use a method called “the triple bottom line approach.” Using this approach, a potential development is assessed on its social, environmental and economic value, instead of just trying to figure out if a project’s economic benefit outweighs the environmental risk.
This approach is meant to give a better idea of how a project will effect quality of life in a region. The city says that the triple bottom line approach is the basis for the Prince Rupert’s Quality of Life Official Community Plan. The result has been, according to the city, that development in Prince Rupert has gone ahead while keeping in mind how much residents value their environment.
“Even with growth, Prince Rupert has retained its natural and pristine look and feel. Development has been balanced as a result of the retention of natural landscapes, harbour views and mountain views and focusing higher densities and larger buildings downtown,” reads the submission.
With environmental conservation being an important factor for the survival of existing industries and for preserving Prince Rupert’s quality of life for its residents, the City concludes that:
“Any negative effect on the physical environment severely handicaps the community to exist as it desires.”
The written submission will not be the only participation in the Enbridge hearings that the City is planning. The City of Prince Rupert has also registered as an intervenor, which means that it will be allowed to submit questions and present evidence at the hearings when they get underway.
City manager, Gord Howie, cautions that the current draft of the submission is just that: at draft. Which means it could still be changed before being sent to the joint review panel.