In a surprising move last week, Smithers Council voted to oppose Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline project. Joining a growing number of northwestern communities including Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District, Prince Rupert and Terrace.
Just over a month ago Smithers Council had tabled a motion that would postpone making a decision on the matter until after the federally appointed Joint Review Panel rendered their decision on Enbridge’s proposal. However, after Councillor Phil Brienesse introduced a new motion to oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline, the vote came back favorably, 5-1.
Though there was one councillor absent from the meeting last week, which had Councillor Charlie Northrup “disappointed and surprised” that they would vote on such an important issue without all council present.
“Council tabled (a motion) to wait until after the process had taken place,” said Northrup. “All council was present, lots of emotion around this issue in the community on both sides, so I just thought it would be appropriate to wait until all council was present to have the full discussion. And then it would be a full council vote.”
However, with pressure building as neighboring councils passed similar motions to oppose Enbridge, Councillor Brienesse felt that issue needed to be dealt with now rather than later.
“I think it’s difficult and dangerous to say we’re going to wait for all councillors to all be present for any motion,” Brienesse said. “You can’t keep pushing things down the field just because people aren’t going to be present. Councillor Bandstra’s position was very clear, and in the most important instance the vote was 5-1.”
Enbridge’s proposed project will move oil sands bitumen from Bruderheim, Alberta to the port of Kitimat, where it will be transported by supertankers to Asia and California markets. Recently Transport Canada approved the use of supertankers in a report that found no regulatory concerns to transport bitumen through the tight corridor of the Douglas Channel. However, some critics depute that, arguing there are plenty of nautical concerns that haven’t been addressed.
But some are still skeptical that this resistance from local councils will have very little, if any bearing on the JRP’s finial decision.
“We’ve seen different councils and elected bodies in the area decide to make their stand,” said local small-businessman, Scott Groves.
“Do I really think, personally, that all these communities making this statement is going to affect the outcome of the Joint Review Panel? No, I don’t, because you are just one voice. For one body to try and form an opinion that is going to represent all of the constituents of that area on something like this is going to be difficult to do.”
Still, Mayor Taylor Bachrach says in recent weeks it became clear to all council what the purpose of the JRP process really is. And that municipal government do in fact have a legitimate roll to play in this process.
“I was surprised by how decisive the vote is,” he said. “I think it’s an accurate representation of sentiment in our community. This isn’t a project that our community wants. I think people have been fairly clear that oil pipelines are not part of our economic development vision for this region.”
Currently the JRP is hearing testimony in the coastal community of Kitkatla, BC. The review process is expected to last another 18 months.
More to come.