Kitimat Council to consider new Enbridge forum after warning about avalanches on pipeline route

Douglas Channel Watch
Angus McLeod and Margaret Stenson, members of the environmental group Douglas Channel Watch, wear "ocean blue" scarves at a meeting of the District of Kitimat Council, March 5, 2012. The "ocean blue" scarves represent the group's determination to protect the oceans. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

District of Kitimat Council will consider a motion at its next meeting on March 19 to hold a second community forum on the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

The notice of motion was introduced by Councillor Mario Feldhoff after a request for a new forum by the environmental group Douglas Channel Watch.

Murray Minchin called for the forum after a presentation to council about the avalanche dangers at Nimbus Mountain, where Enbridge plans a tunnel through the mountain.

Minchin said Enbridge has not done a forest survey on Nimbus Mountain where the pipeline would emerge from the tunnel. However, a survey by Douglas Channel Watch members of tree growth on Nimbus Mountain, Hoult Creek on the pipeline route and Hunter Creek which are tributaries of the Kitimat River, shows strong evidence of previous avalanches which could cause serious damage to the twin bitumen and condensate pipelines.

Minchin says that documentation filed by Enbridge with the Joint Review Panel shows that while an Enbridge response crew could reach a breached pipeline in that area in four hours, it would also take four hours for as much as two million litres of diluted bitumen spilled in that area to reach the Kitimat River estuary.

The lower slopes in the area have a large population of young, small, closely packed trees and lumpy rock material on the forest floor that show that it is periodically “swept clean by avalanches,” Minchin told the council.

The young trees in the area are small because they are growing on rockfall, and there are no mature trees. There are large boulders on the lower slopes, another indication of avalanche or rock fall, Minchin said.

He showed images of middle aged hemlocks farther up the slope near the proposed tunnel exit that sometime in the past had their tops ripped off. Damage to the spreading branches of the trees on one side indicate that the trees were hit by an avalanche when they were young.

There is evidence of a major rockfall on the mountain about 50 metres above the proposed tunnel exit with rock fall material clearly visible on the forest floor. The curve of the hemlocks in the area indicate that there is still downhill movement on the slope, Minchin said.

That means, he said, that with the plans calling for the twin pipelines to be suspended 200 metres in the air over Hoult Creek, that could be hit by an avalanche.

He said the presence throughout the area of “avalanche alders” combined with the fact that there are no hemlocks, is an indication, Michin said, of regular avalanche activity.

Giant boulder brought to Houlte Creek by an avalanche
This photograph from Douglas Channel Watch shows a giant boulder and a fallen hemlock in area close to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline at Houlte Creek, BC. (Douglas Channel Watch)

He showed a photo of a large boulder, perhaps the size of a carport, 100 metres from the proposed tunnel exit that was brought to the area by an avalanche.

He said a study of the age of young balsam would tell an expert when the last massive avalanche occurred “but it won’t tell us when the next one will occur.” The steep slopes on Mount Houlte, leading to the pipeline route along Houtle creek mean that area which feeds the Kitimat River has seen many avalanches in the past.

The pipeline then goes into the Hunter Creek area, which Minchin says, Enbridge’s own experts have warned is also vulnerable to avalanches. At Hunter Creek, avalanche debris could temporarily dam the creek, and then, when the debris is released by spring melt or water pressure, that could a create a flash flood; a flash flood that could damage the pipelines.

He pointed to the fact the cleanup of the Kalamazoo River spill in Michigan had been shut down for the winter because the bitumen becomes too sticky to move. He then asked how much longer would it take to clean up a spill under the winter conditions of the Kitimat area. Noting that Enbridge has admitted the Kitimat river would be closed for fishing for “at least four years” he asked “How long will the cleanup take…eight twelve? And where would Kitimat get its water?”

Minchin concluded by saying if there is a pipeline breach at Hoult or Hunter Creeks, despite Enbridge’s plans, the Kitimat River downstream from those creeks would be polluted for years.

He then asked that council organize a new public forum, with three representatives, one from the Haisla First Nation, one from Enbridge and one from an environmental group, adding. “The mayor of Dawson Creek has been trotted out at every one of these forums and is irrelevant, which is why we ask that three people speak to the forum.”