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Village of Burns Lake mayor and council divided over Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline decision

Two Village of Burns Lake councillors take a stand against the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

A motion to oppose the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline was defeated last week, with council divided in their opinions on the issue.

The motion was made by Coun. Susan Schienbein and was seconded by Coun. Quentin Beach, following the second committee of the whole meeting held to discuss the proposed pipeline.

The first committee of the whole meeting was held by council on Nov. 8,  2011.

The public were also given an opportunity to weigh in on the issue and delegations were allowed five minutes to speak.

All six local area First Nations were invited as delegations, however only Lake Babine Nation, the Office of the Wet'su wet'en and Wet'su wet'en First Nation attended the meeting.

Office of the Wet'su wet'en Hereditary Chief Madeek [Jeff Brown] and Mike Ridsdale spoke out against the pipeline.

Chief Madeek said, "We are not opposed to economic development in our territory that leaves a minimal footprint. We oppose this project because of its volatile nature. If a pipe bursts it will be a heck of a clean up."

Ridsdale spoke about the recent Plains Midstream Canada oil spill in the Red Deer River in Alberta. He said that it is estimated that 475,000 litres of oil spilled into the river.

"All the fish in those waters are going to die," Ridsdale said, adding that the same techniques being used to clean up the Plains Midstream Canada oil spill were also used to clean up the Exxon Valdez spill. "There is no new technology coming out to clean up oil spills and the equipment used in recovery efforts does significant damage to the environment."

Chief Madeek said, "We have 22,000 square kilometres of territory. We have five chiefs and 13 house chiefs that govern this territory. We are the caretakers of this land. It is not ours to sell and it is not ours to give away. It is only ours to pass on to the next generation."

Wet'su wet'en First Nation Chief Karen Ogen asked for council's support in opposing the proposed pipeline.

"We are a member of the Yinka Dene Alliance [along with Nadleh Whut'en, Nak’azdli, Takla Lake, Saik’uz First Nations] and our sole mandate is to oppose the pipeline. In my opinion the federal government’s agenda is money. The buck stops with First Nations, we have a lot to lose.”

Marilyn Joseph-Williams issued a statement to council on behalf of Lake Babine Nation’s outgoing chief and council.

“We are not in support of Enbridge. While the new council may come out with a different decision, the outgoing council is not in support. We think there needs to be more environmental assessment,” she said.

Local residents Karen Cyr, Julian Brown and Helene Brunette also spoke against the project. Brunette said, “There is not much focus on the opinions of white people, but I know that white people oppose this project.”

Councillor Susan Schienbein said she is disappointed other local First Nations didn’t attend the meeting.

“It is important for me to hear your opinions when making my decision. It has been difficult for me being appointed to the [Enbridge] Community Advisory Board because morally and ethically I am opposed to the project, however as an elected official it is my duty to weigh all of the information. I have spent a considerable amount of time researching and I share the same opinion as all of you that have spoken tonight. I am opposed to the project as it stands right now. I have concerns about the joint review panel process after comments from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Joe Oilver who said, ‘the project is being hijacked by environmental terrorists.’ This causes me concern as the government is trying to mute groups when it comes to the process. I also think it is naive of us to think that there will be economic gain from this project. I don’t feel the federal government is taking the interest of the people of the Northwest into consideration ... we bear all of the risk and none of the gain.”

Councillor Quentin Beach said he is ready to take a stand. “I have been urging council to make a decision one way or another for a long time,” he said.

Councillor Schienbein made a motion that the Village of Burns Lake does not support the Enbridge pipeline and Coun. Beach seconded it. “There has been a great deal of reluctance on our behalf in making a decision and we are placing a great deal of faith in the National Energy Board and the joint review process, but I no longer have the same faith in the process,” Coun. Schienbein said.

Councillor Varga said, “I don’t have all the information. The joint review panel has not presented their findings and I am not convinced that the image that Coun. Schienbein has presented of the process is accurate. I am personally not prepared to say no.”

Mayor Luke Strimbold said, “We don’t have the staff, or the money to invest in researching this project so that we can take a stance on it. The joint review panel and the National Energy Board are not a part of government. It is the government making those statements, so I am still in support of the process.”

Councillor Schienbein said, “Mayor, I have respect for all my colleagues, but this is the second time we have held a meeting and during this time, not one community member has said they are in support. If people are in support, they would have come and told us so. I remain in support of the First Nations governments and community members that have come to us and voiced opposition and I will stand by their side.”

Mayor Strimbold said, “At the last committee of the whole meeting, Donna Brochez came and said to council that if the pipeline is going through we should get what we can from it.”

As reported in the Lakes District News edition of Nov. 16, 2011, Brochez said to council that she does not support the Enbridge project, but feels council should have a plan in place to ask the company for a community legacy fund if the project is approved.

The motion to not support the project was defeated by Coun. Varga and Mayor Strimbold.

According to council’s voting rules, if the votes of the members present at a council meeting are equal for and against a motion, the motion is defeated.

Councillor John Illes was absent from the meeting and later said to Lakes District News that he was in Vancouver for work. He said he will review meeting minutes before making a comment about whether he supports the project. “My initial understanding was that there was only to be discussion, so I will need to see what new information was brought forward.”