Two reports into the risks associated with the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline corridor between Burns Lake and Kitimat – one commissioned under the banner of the Smithers-based Bulkley Valley Centre for Natural Resources Research and Management, and the other by the Northwest Institute for Bioregional Research – will not form part of any Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (RDBN) submission to the ongoing federal Joint Review Panel (JRP) of the pipeline proposal.
In a late attempt to have the RDBN board of directors consider taking advantage of its intervener status in the JRP hearings, Stoney Stoltenberg, director of electoral area A (Houston/Smithers) introduced the two reports, totalling over 130 pages, to the rest of the RDBN directors by email. Unfortunately, the reports did not reach directors’ email inboxes until only two days before the May 23, 2013 monthly board meeting.
Director Taylor Bachrach, also mayor of Smithers, immediately supported Stoltenberg’s motion.
“The regional district is registered as an intervener,” Bachrach said. “To my knowledge, we haven’t taken any action to intervene in the process. This is our last chance to represent our constituents on what many feel is the most important issue facing our region right now.”
A number of directors were immediately concerned that they were being asked to give RDBN approval to a lengthy, technical document without having had the opportunity either individually, or through an RDBN staff report, to determine whether or not the content of the reports fit with their constituents’ concerns.
“My concern is that we haven’t tasked anyone to do the research on our behalf,” said Burns Lake Mayor Luke Strimbold regarding his reluctance to support Stoltenberg’s motion.
Strimbold said he wasn’t comfortable making a submission of documents on someone else’s behalf when the RDBN had not been engaged in the process of generating the reports.
While true that the RDBN had not commissioned the documents, Bachrach was concerned that the RDBN’s silence throughout the entire JRP process could be taken as ‘tacit support for the project’.
“I don’t think I’d be representing my constituents if that were the case,” Bachrach said.
Director of Area E (Southside) Steve Freeman also spoke in favour of approving the motion to submit the documents.
“I’m under the impression that 60 to 70 per cent of our constituents are against it,” Freeman said. “I think we should put something forward so that we can say we’ve done something rather than having sat on our hands and done nothing.”
Some councillors were concerned that the wide range of opinion on the proposed project meant that it was difficult to take a position that accurately reflected their constituents’ varied opinions.
“It’s a big district,” said Village of Fraser Lake Director Dwayne Lindstrom. “Some people support the project and some don’t.”
Bachrach and Rob Newell, director Houston rural, suggested that submitting the documents on the RDBN ticket didn’t mean the RDBN was committed to a position either for or against the proposed pipeline.
“I don’t think submitting [these documents] indicates support or opposition, but simply articulates areas of concern to the regional district,” Bachrach said. “These are two reputable scientific reports. If we don’t submit these, what are we going to submit?”
With the deadline for submissions arriving on May 31, 2013, it seems likely that the RDBN will not make any submission to the JRP. The final oral arguments of the JRP will begin on June 17, 2013 in Terrace.
The two reports will still find their way into the official record of evidence submitted to the JRP, as they were included in a submission by the Northwest Institute for Bioregional Research. The first report analyzed risks associated with persistent slope instabilities along the proposed pipeline route through the west central B.C. A highlight of the report is that three of six previous landslides in western B.C. have severed an existing natural gas pipeline on three separate occasions since 1978.
The second report focused on the risks to fish habitat – salmon and steelhead – in the Morice River should there be a pipeline rupture in the watershed.
The motion was defeated eight to five, principally on the grounds that directors were not familiar enough with the material.
“Unfortunately the timeline didn’t allow all of the directors to familiarize themselves with the material,” said Bachrach later.
“If they had, I think it would have been a different story.”