A high turnout is expected Saturday for the non-binding plebiscite where residents of the District of Kitimat can, perhaps, say yes or no to the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. In some ways, it all depends on how people interpret the convoluted question.
Warren Weychasen, Kitimat’s Deputy Administrative Officer said Thursday 910 people voted during advance polls on April 2 and April 9, compared to 470 over the two days of advance voting in the 2011 municipal election.
Even who can vote has can be the matter of heated debate. Members of the Haisla Nation who live in Kitamaat Village feel strongly that they should have a voice, even though legally they live outside the municipal boundaries. “It’s our land they’re talking about,” one Haisla member, who wouldn’t give his name, said Friday as he was getting off the Village bus at City Centre.
The District also decided to allow residents of Kitimat who have been here longer than 30 days to vote, even if they are not Canadian citizens.
Another group that can’t vote, many from outside the northwest region, are living at the Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization Camp or at smaller camps for the developing LNG projects. An informal poll of those workers at City Centre Friday showed that if camp workers had been allowed to cast a vote, many would have voted “yes,” something the opponents of Northern Gateway said they feared would overwhelm local residents.
The $6.5 billion project would see two pipelines, one carrying oil sands bitumen from Alberta to the port of Kitimat, and a second carrying a form of natural gas used to dilute the bitumen from Kitimat to Alberta. The bitumen would then be loaded onto tankers for shipment to Asia along environmentally sensitive areas of the British Columbia coast.
Northern Gateway’s campaign has concentrated on the promise of 180 permanent direct local jobs worth $17 million and more spinoff jobs for contractors and suppliers. The company also promises that the District will receive $5 million in property taxes.
Northern Gateway also emphasized its commitment to safety and the environment, saying that the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel that held two years of hearings on the project, has made many of the company’s voluntary commitments a mandatory part of the conditions for granting permission to go ahead.
The main opponent, Douglas Channel Watch, maintains that the risk from either a tanker accident or pipeline breach is too high for the small number of jobs Northern Gateway will bring to the community.
Even the question, as chosen by the District of Kitimat Council, is controversial, because it focuses on the 209 conditions placed on the project by the Joint Review Panel:
Do you support the final report recommendations of the Joint Review Panel (JRP) of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and National Energy Board, that the Enbridge Northern Gateway project be approved, subject to 209 conditions set out in Volume 2 of the JRP’s final report?
After the district council decided on that question, debate on the wording continued through several council sessions in January and February.
Public delegations, some from Douglas Channel Watch, told council that there should be a simple yes or no question.
On January 13, Donny van Dyk, Northern Gateway’s local manager for coastal aboriginal and community relations, told council that the company preferred a series of simple questions, because “We avoid an adversarial feeling plebiscite and we generate dialogue and debate amongst the plebiscite but also so we as a proponent can come away with value and create a better project.”
Council rejected a proposal for a series of simple of questions, leaving voters to decide on whether or not they supported the Joint Review recommendations. That raised the question of whether voters would make their choice on some of the provisions of the report and not the project itself.
What does it mean?
That means that even Council is unsure of what the vote will mean.
The main reason for holding the non-binding plebiscite is that it fulfills a promise from an all candidates meeting during the municipal election in November 2011, where every candidate agreed to “poll” the citizens of Kitimat on Northern Gateway.
After the new council took office, on Jan. 16, 2012, it voted to hold some sort of poll or vote to find out whether the community supports the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project. At the time, it was unclear after the vote how the survey would take place.
For the almost two years of the Joint Review Panel, the District of Kitimat did little more than act as spectators when the JRP was in town, claiming its neutrality policy precluded participation.
The District could have participated without violating the neutrality provisions, but chose not to do so. It’s now clear that decision angered the Haisla Nation, as Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross said in a letter to the media, “the District stood by and did nothing”
The debate in the District of Kitimat Council on March 3 showed that even members of council were uncertain what the vote would mean.
Councillor Corinne Scott said, “As much as we wanted to know what the feeling of the community is, all we know so far is that we’re split. What the percentage of split is, we don’t know,” said Scott.
Councillor Phil Germuth said the vote is not on the project itself, but on the Joint Review decision. “We’re asking about 209 conditions that nobody understands fully. Even Enbridge doesn’t fully understand them.”
Councillor Edwin Empinado said once the results are known, that would give the District “more bargaining power” in future dealing with company and the federal government, a sentiment echoed by Douglas Channel Watch which admits the vote will do little more than send a message to Ottawa.
It was Northern Gateway’s decision to put major resources into the campaign that raised the profile of what was originally intended as way of discovering the feeling in the small community. With the ruling from the Joint Review Panel that Northern Gateway is in the national interest and the final decision in the hands of the federal cabinet, it is equally uncertain what effect, if any, the vote will have on Ottawa.
Throughout the hearings, most people in Kitimat kept their views to themselves. When the campaign began in earnest, which in turn, triggered a fierce and often acrimonious debate on social media, mainly on the Facebook group Kitimat Politics, showing the divide in the community, although it appears from the comments that there are more opponents than supporters on the forum. The e-debate on Kitimat Politics is continuing up to the last minute Friday night and will likely get hotter once the results are known.
The adversarial feeling that van Dyk had said the company wanted to avoid was amplified in the past month when Northern Gateway began an aggressive public relations campaign with newspaper ads, glossy brochures and a door-to-door campaign by employees, some brought in from Alberta.
When news of Northern Gateway’s campaign effort spread on social media, which in turn prompted a counter campaign using the hashtag #adsforkitimat. Ads created by people from across BC were posted on Facebook and YouTube.
Douglas Channel Watch positioned itself as the David vs. the Enbridge Goliath.
On Monday, Murray Minchin of Douglas Channel Watch told Council, “When Kitimat and northern BC residents found out how many resources Enbridge was pouring into their Kitimat plebiscite advertising campaign, some of those citizens made unsolicited donations to Douglas Channel Watch. This has allowed our small group to mount an advertising campaign of our own.” Minchin said donations went up after the group launched a website adding, “People began handing us money on the street while we were putting up lawn signs. Somebody, anonymously, left a $2,000 money order in one of our member’s mailboxes.
On Thursday, Douglas Channel Watch released its advertising budget showing that the organization spent $10,970.00 on print media ads, $792.92 on supplies, and has an outstanding debt of approximately $2,600.00 in radio ads, for a total of $14,362.92. Minchin challenged Enbridge to release its own ad budget.
Ivan Giesbrecht, a spokesperson for Northern Gateway said in an e-mail to the media that the company “will discuss our advertising spending after it’s over [the plebiscite] this weekend.” Late Friday, Giesbrecht released partial figures to the Northern Sentinel, saying the company had spent $6,500 in print and $3,100 on radio advertisements during the campaign.
Those figures don’t include the glossy brochures Northern Gateway distributed in the community, sponsored posts on Facebook, or the signs the dot the streets of Kitimat.
Douglas Channel Watch did put up signs. Many were recycled from earlier protests, came from Friends of the Wild Salmon or were created by volunteers from as far away as Smithers.
Giesbrecht told the Sentinel said the company felt that the discussion in the community about which side of the vote has spent more had “become a distraction” from the real issues. But instead of a discussion on jobs and taxes, on Friday night there was a raging debate on Kitimat Politics on Facebook about the Gateway release on its spending and what was missing from those figures.
On a cold and rainy Tuesday afternoon, Northern Gateway hosted an Open House and barbeque at the Rod and Gun. Northern Gateway not only outlined the jobs they say the project would create, but emphasized how far along the company is coming in meeting BC Premier Christy Clark’s condition for a “world-class” tanker spill prevention and response system.
Janet Holder, Enbridge Vice President of Western Access described what she and Northern Gateway staff called “super tugs,” 50 metres long. “One will be tethered to the tanker, one will be following the tanker,” Holder said. “So there will be two escorts whenever that tanker is in Canadian waters. The important thing about the tugs is not just they can move that tanker if it get into difficulty. It also contains emergency response equipment right with the tankers. We’ll also have strategically placed barges with emergency response equipment along the shorelines. We will be bringing in an enormous amount of equipment before we even start operating.”
Owen McHugh, a Northern Gateway emergency manager said, “Adding these four or five tugs to the north coast provides a rescue capability that doesn’t exist in this format. So for any large commercial vessel that is traveling on our coast, this capacity to protect the waters of the north coast.” The tugs will also have firefighting capability. “The salvage capability that BC describes as ‘world-class,’ Northern Gateway is bringing that to the north coast,” McHugh said.
The plebiscite has raised tensions between the District of Kitimat and the nearby Haisla First Nation, which adamantly opposed to Northern Gateway.
Haisla chief counsellor Ellis Ross wrote a scathing letter to local media, saying, in part:
Deciding to hold a referendum at this late date is a slap in the face to all the work done by the Haisla Nation on this project. The Haisla Nation dedicated time and money toward testing Northern Gateway’s evidence and claims about safety and environmental protection, while the District stood by and did nothing.
The review process for this project has already left town, with the District taking no position on the project. Still undecided on what its views are on the project, the District now proposes to conduct a poll, instead of examining the facts in the JRP process. A poll to vote on a JRP report that we view as wrong to begin with including the flawed process itself!
On Sunday, the Haisla Senior Women were playing the Prince Rupert Thunder in finals of the annual Kitimat Open Basketball Tournament which has the aim of promoting “Cultural Warming” among everyone living in northwestern BC. At half time, members of the Haisla Nation distributed black T-shirts labelled with “No Enbridge” to spectators in the bleachers. After the Haisla won the game, 67 to 45, as Kitimat mayor Joanne Monaghan was called on to congratulate the winners, she was greeted by chants of “No Enbridge, No Enbridge.”
At Tuesday’s Open House, one of the audience asked Enbridge officials, including Janet Holder, “Why are you ignoring the Haisla?”
Donny van Dyke responded, “We are actively working to strengthen that relationship….” Then when the questioner persisted, van Dyke said, “With this question perhaps it’s better to take it offline.” Then he asked, “Are there any other questions?”
For years the District of Kitimat has been officially neutral but voting over the past years shows that council is evenly split on Enbridge issues with swing votes sometimes going one way and sometimes another on what are often four to three votes.
The federal cabinet has until mid-June, 180 days after the release of the Joint Review decision to approve the panel’s findings. It is expected by most observers that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will give the go ahead. That doesn’t mean the project will start immediately, the Joint Review findings already face about a dozen court challenges from First Nations and environmental groups.
Minchin said Saturday’s non-binding plebiscite “is not going to affect the Prime Minister’s decision per se. But it’s very important for Enbridge to squeak out a win here in Kitimat. It’s just my feeling that this proposal is associated with way too many risks for very little gain.
“If it comes back as a ‘no’ from Kitimat, it’s a clear signal back to Ottawa that they really need to rethink their priorities. For the amount of bitumen that would be coming here and exported as a raw product’ that same amount of bitumen would provide a couple of thousand direct jobs in Alberta. It seems crazy to be shipping off all our raw resources without any upgrading, it’s like raw log exports.”
Enbridge Vice President Janet Holder, speaking at the Open House said, “This is not a pie in the sky type project, it is real, we do have the shippers behind us, we have First Nations behind us.”
No matter what happens Saturday, both sides will continue to push their positions.
Holder said she would not speculate on the outcome of the plebiscite, “We’re going to communities throughout British Columbia, talking to citizens, providing the information, listening to their concerns. We’re just continuing with that outreach and we’ll continue with that outreach over the next year.”
How Kitimat voters cast their ballots depends on factors that go beyond the simple environment versus economy and jobs argument, so the outcome of Saturday’s plebiscite is far from certain.
In 2010, West Fraser’s Eurocan paper mill closed, with the loss of 500 jobs, a devastating blow to Kitimat’s economy. The Eurocan closure, the earlier closure of a Methanex plant and cutbacks at the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter and the abandonment of mills and mine across the northwest in recent years have left many people skeptical of corporate promises of jobs. Others believe the Northern Gateway project, along with proposed Liquefied Natural Gas projects in Kitimat and Prince Rupert will bring a much needed boost to a struggling economy.
Even though Kitimat has been an industrial town since the aluminum smelter was built in the 1950s, most residents fish in the Kitimat River, boat on Douglas Channel and hike or hunt in the back country, which means environmental concerns are always high on the agenda. There are fears even among some supporters of Northern Gateway of an environmental disaster.
Northern Gateway, which has admitted that its relations with northern communities started off badly in the early stages of the project, has a lot of catching up to do, no matter what the outcome of the plebiscite.
Nathan Cullen, NDP MP for Skeena Bulkley Valley and Opposition Finance Critic came to Kitimat last week to assist Douglas Channel Watch with its door-to-door campaign. “There will be PhDs written on how Enbridge blundered this,” Cullen told reporters at the time.
(Spelling of van Dyk was corrected. We regret the error)
Kitimat comedian Danny Nunes has become the first to declare his candidacy for mayor of Kitimat in the fall municipal election, in what is expected to be lively race with several other candidates also expected to challenge incumbent mayor Joanne Monaghan.
Nunes issued a news release April 1, 2014:
Today, April the 1st, 2014, I am announcing that I will once again be running as a candidate for Mayor of Kitimat British Columbia in the upcoming municipal election to be held in November.
In the last election held in 2011, I campaigned under the slogan ” Don’t Vote For Danny”.
Sadly I was unsuccessful in my campaign because nearly 100 people did in fact vote for me.
Although I am glad I was able to help discover nearly one hundred cases of illiteracy, I came away with a very deep regret. I chose not to participate in the All Candidates Forum held during the election and instead chose to stand in the back of the audience.
While standing in the back, I became thirsty and had nothing to quench my thirst. On the stage where I would have been seated was a free bottle of water and by not taking part in the debate I deprived myself of a chance to drink from that bottle and quench my thirst.
Nearly 3 years later, the thought of that bottle and the what ifs of not drinking from it have haunted me each night and kept me awake.
I plan to make up for my mistake and rectify the situation this year by once again running for Mayor of Kitimat B.C. I promise you the electorate that I will go on that stage and I will claim my free bottle of water so that never again will I have to live with the regret of not having a cold bottle of free water to satisfy my thirst for democracy.
In 2011 I asked you not to vote for me… In 2014 I am asking you to vote for me as I embark on my journey to the free bottle of water. In life there is always time for second chances and this my good people is mine.
If anyone has questions or wishes to discuss my candidacy and my journey for the water bottle feel free to contact me using the information provided below. Together we can all be a water bottle from which we quench the thirst from within.
Nunes told Northwest Coast Energy News he will issue his platform on energy issues sometime in the near future.
That was 25 years ago. The media loves anniversary stories and the Exxon Valdez look-backs and updates are already ramping up—right in the middle of the Kitimat plebiscite on the Northern Gateway pipeline and terminal project.
The hashtag #ExxonValdez25 is beginning to trend, based on a Twitter chat for Monday sponsored by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The voters of Kitimat who will have to cast their ballots on the Joint Review Panel’s interpretation of the Northern Gateway proposal will find once again that the JRP tilted toward the industry and downplayed the lingering risks from a major tanker disaster—and that means neither the pro nor the anti side can be happy with the events that will be marked on March 24, 2014.
The Exxon Valdez accident is part of the Joint Review Panel findings that the economic benefits of Northern Gateway outweigh the risks. The JRP generally accepted the industry position, taken by both Northern Gateway and by ExxonMobil that Prince William Sound has recovered from the Exxon Valdez incident, something that is fiercely debated and disputed.
One area that is not in dispute is that the Exxon Valez disaster brought laws that forced energy companies to use double-hulled tankers. However, commercials that indicate that Northern Gateway will be using double-hulled tankers because the company respects the BC coast is pushing things a bit far, since those tankers are required by law.
Northern Gateway told the Joint Reivew Panel that
on a worldwide basis, all data sets show a steady reduction in the number
and size of oil spills since the 1970s. This decline has been even more apparent since regulatory changes in 1990 following the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which required a phase-in of double-hulled tankers in the international fleet. No double-hulled tanker has sunk since 1990. There have been five incidents of double-hulled tankers that have had a collision or grounding that penetrated the cargo tanks. Resulting spills ranged from 700 to 2500 tonnes
The Haisla countered by saying:
The Haisla Nation said that, although there have been no major spills since the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, there were 111 reported incidents involving tanker traffic in Prince William Sound between 1997 and 2007. The three most common types of incidents were equipment malfunctions, problems with propulsion, steering, or engine function, and very small spills from tankers at berth at the marine terminal. The Haisla Nation said that, in the absence of state-of-the-art prevention systems in Prince William Sound, any one of those incidents could have resulted in major vessel casualties or oil spills.
The herring of Prince William Sound still have not recovered. Neither have killer whales, and legal issues remain unresolved a quarter of a century later. Monday is the 25th anniversary of the disaster, in which the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef and spilled at least 11 million gallons of oil into the pristine waters of the sound.
Prince William Sound today looks spectacular, a stunning landscape of mountainous fjords, blue-green waters and thickly forested islands. Pick up a stone on a rocky beach, maybe dig a little, though, and it is possible to still find pockets of oil.
“I think the big surprise for all of us who have worked on this thing for the last 25 years has been the continued presence of relatively fresh oil,” said Gary Shigenaka, a marine biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The legal dispute over the spill is still ongoing, with the Telegraph’s Joanna Walters noting:
[S]tate senator Berta Gardner is pushing for Alaskan politicians to demand that the US government forces ExxonMobil Corporation to pay up a final $92 million (£57 million), in what has become the longest-running environmental court case in history. The money would primarily be spent on addressing the crippled herring numbers and the oiled beaches.
“There’s still damage from the spill. The oil on the beaches is toxic and hurting wildlife. We can’t just say we’ve done what we can and it’s all over – especially with drilling anticipated offshore in the Arctic Ocean – this is significant for Alaska and people around the world,” she told The Telegraph.
An ExxonMobil spokesman then told The Telegraph, the energy sector’s standard response:
Richard Keil, a senior media relations adviser at ExxonMobil, said: “The overwhelming consensus of peer-reviewed scientific papers is that Prince William Sound has recovered and the ecosystem is healthy and thriving.”
But federal scientists estimate that between 16,000 and 21,000 gallons of oil from the spill lingers on beaches in Prince William Sound and up to 450 miles away, some of it no more biodegraded than it was at the time of the disaster.
Overall, the Exxon Valdez disaster was, as US National Public Radio reported, a spur to science. But NPR’s conclusion is the exact opposite of that from the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel—at least when it comes to fish embryos.
Twenty-five years of research following the Exxon Valdez disaster has led to some startling conclusions about the persistent effects of spilled oil.
When the tanker leaked millions of gallons of the Alaskan coast, scientists predicted major environmental damage, but they expected those effects to be short lived. Instead, they’ve stretched out for many years.
What researchers learned as they puzzled through the reasons for the delayed recovery fundamentally changed the way scientists view oil spills. One of their most surprising discoveries was that long-lasting components of oil thought to be benign turned out to cause chronic damage to fish hearts when fish were exposed to tiny concentrations of the compounds as embryos.
It seems that some species recovered better than others from the oilspill.
For example, the recovery of the sea otter population has received widespread media coverage, but with widely divergent points of view. The more conservative and pro-industry writers point to the recovery of the otter population, while environmental coverage stresses the quarter century it took for the otter population to rebound.
Although recovery timelines varied widely among species, our work shows that recovery of species vulnerable to long-term effects of oil spills can take decades,” said lead author of the study, Brenda Ballachey, research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “For sea otters, we began to see signs of recovery in the years leading up to 2009, two decades after the spill, and the most recent results from 2011 to 2013 are consistent with recovery
The Joint Review Panel generally accepted Northern Gateway’s and the energy industry’s evidence on the Exxon Valdez incident and concluded
The Panel’s finding regarding ecosystem recovery following a large spill is based on extensive scientific evidence filed by many parties, including information on recovery of the environment from large past spill events such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Panel notes that different parties sometimes referred to the same studies on environmental recovery after oil spills, and drew different conclusions.
In its consideration of natural recovery of the environment, the Panel focused on effects that are more readily measurable such as population level impacts, harvest levels, or established environmental quality criteria such as water and sediment quality criteria.
The Panel finds that the evidence indicates that ecosystems will recover over time after a spill and that the post-spill ecosystem will share functional attributes of the pre-spill one. Postspill ecosystems may not be identical to pre-spill ecosystems. Certain ecosystem components may continue to show effects, and residual oil may remain in some locations. In certain unlikely circumstances, the Panel finds that a localized population or species could potentially be permanently affected by an oil spill.
Scientific studies after the Exxon Valdez spill indicated that the vast majority of species recovered following the spill and that functioning ecosystems, similar to those existing pre-spill, were established.
Species for which recovery is not fully apparent, such as Pacific herring, killer whales, and pigeon guillemots, appear to have been affected by other environmental factors or human influences not associated with the oil spill. Insufficient pre-spill baseline data on these species contributed to difficulties in determining the extent of spill effects.
Based on the evidence, the Panel finds that natural recovery of the aquatic environment after an oil spill is likely to be the primary recovery mechanism, particularly for marine spills. Both freshwater and marine ecosystem recovery is further mitigated where cleanup is possible, effective, and beneficial to the environment.
Natural processes that degrade oil would begin immediately following a spill. Although residual oil could remain buried in sediments for years, the Panel finds that toxicity associated with that oil would decline over time and would not cause widespread, long-term impacts.
The Panel finds that Northern Gateway’s commitment to use human interventions, including available spill response technologies, would mitigate spill impacts to ecosystems and assist in species recovery..
It is clear, however, from the local coverage in Alaska and from the attention of the world’s media that Prince William Sound has not fully recovered from the Exxon Valdez incident (it may yet in who knows how many years). Anger and bitterness still remains among the residents of Alaska, especially since the court cases are dragging on after a quarter century.
Those are the kinds of issues that Kitimat residents will face when they vote in the plebiscite on April 12. Just who do the people of Kitimat believe, those who say the chances for a spill are remote and the environment and the economy will quickly recover? It probably depends on whether or not you consider 25 years quick. Twenty-five years is quick in geological time but it is a third or a half of a human life time.
As for the residents of Kitamaat Village, and probably many people in Kitimat, Haisla Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross summed it up in a Facebook posting on Sunday
If this happens in Kitamaat, all those campaigning for Enbridge will pack up and leave for another coastline to foul. Haisla don’t have much of a choice. We would have to stay and watch the court battles on who should pay what.
Ross is right. Whether it’s Prince William Sound or Douglas Channel, the people who live the region are stuck with the mess while the big companies walk away and the lawyers get rich.
With about three and half weeks to go, the campaigning on the for and against sides for the April 12 Kitimat plebiscite on the Joint Review Panel report on the Northern Gateway has been relatively low key up until now.
That changes with the news that Northern Gateway will hold two campaign Open Houses. Sources have told Northwest Coast Energy News that the first Open House, hosted by Northern Gateway President John Carruthers, will take place at the Rod and Gun on Tuesday, April 1. The second Open House will be hosted by Janet Holder, Enbridge’s Executive Vice President of Western Access, on Tuesday, April 8, also at the Rod and Gun.
Until now, Enbridge Northern Gateway has been using its deep pockets with a newspaper ad campaign emphasizing Kitimat residents and the promise of jobs, as well as a new website Yes To/For Kitimat. Northern Gateway has also started a telephone campaign, asking residents if they plan to vote “yes” in the plebiscite.
The main opposition, Douglas Channel Watch, is concentrating on what political analysts call the “ground game,” by knocking on doors. Douglas Channel Watch, although they claim to be amateurs facing a giant corporation, are following a classic political strategy. DCW is certainly confident of the “no” vote and their campaign so far, is aimed at fence sitters and those who are in favour of the pipeline but are uncertain about the 209 conditions.
The third player, so far, is Smithers based Northwest Institute for Bioregional Research, which distributed a glossy brochure, comparing the BC provincial government’s final arguments on the project with the Joint Review Panel’s conclusions.
The opposition campaign is concentrating on the perceived lack of balance in the Joint Review Panel, while, again, so far, Enbridge Northern Gateway is avoiding the JRP, perhaps because the company itself is not all that certain about what all 209 conditions actually mean.
That means the District of Kitimat Council, with some members tilting toward favouring the Northern Gateway (although the council members generally deny public opposition), could have blundered with the ambiguous question centered around the JRP
Do you support the final report recommendations of the Joint Review Panel (JRP) of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and National Energy Board, that the Enbridge Northern Gateway project be approved, subject to 209 conditions set out in Volume 2 of the JRP’s final report?”
Overall, whether one opposes or supports the Northern Gateway project, in the end, the Joint Review hearings did not go over well in northwestern British Columbia. By and large the JRP accepted most of the Northern Gateway evidence at face value while largely playing down the concerns of many northwestern BC residents—even supporters. Most important was the JRP’s conclusion that effects of any oil spill, either from a pipeline breach or a tanker accident would be
In the unlikely event of a large oil spill, we found that there would be significant adverse effects on lands, waters, or resources used by residents, communities, and Aboriginal groups. We found that the adverse effects would not be permanent and widespread.
Douglas Channel Watch is trying to capitalize on these doubts. At District Council on Monday March 17, Murray Minchin said:
“What we found out that there are five key reasons why even supporters of Northern Gateway were going to vote no on the plebiscite and people who were sitting on the fence were considering voting no on the plebiscite.
“The plebiscite is on the Joint Review final report and conditions which allow temporary foreign workers to work on the pipeline in Canada, describes Northern Gateway as a raw diluted bitumen export pipeline; does not mandate upgrading or any other value adding job program and will allow 1,100 foot long super tankers to operate on BC’s pristine north coast…The final reason was that the Joint Review panel found that the Exxon Valdez and Kalmazoo spills were localized events with temporary affects which would be justified in the circumstances if they happened in BC.”
“So by voting no we will be sending a message to Ottawa telling them we don’t want temporary foreign workers taking jobs from Canadians. We don’t want thousands of jobs being exported overseas. We don’t want up to 364 dilbit super tankers a year, and the 364 supertankers is based on the actual amount of product that will be put through the pipeline since they’re only applying for 525,000 barrels a day but its actually designed for 850,000 barrels a day, so that’s how we come up with the figure of one super tanker a day, coming to Kitimat and one leaving.
“If you don’t think major diluted bitumen spills in Kitimat’s salmon rivers or on BC’s pristine coast can be justified in any circumstances. So if you vote no on the plebiscite, while you may support the idea, this is an opportunity to send a message back to Ottawa that they really need to rethink their priories.”
Enbridge’s only public appearance early in the campaign was when Donny van Dyke, Northern Gateway’s Manager of Coastal Aboriginal and Community Relations, outlined to council on March 10, the contributions that Northern Gateway has given to the community and to local training programs.
Van Dyk said the Northern Gateway supported training programs that will also be used by other new industrial and commercial projects. He said training with the company’s partners create life skills, noting that one focus of the training is to help people who may have barriers to education, life skills and gainful employment.
Van Dyke says the company plans Northern Gateway Youth Achievement Awards for outstanding students going beyond academics. As part of the awards, 50 winners received iPads.
Van Dyk said that Northern Gateway has contributed $20,000 to community groups within Kitimat, including $7,500 this year . They contributions include: $100,000 for marine skills training, $145,000 for Environmental Field Assessment training, $110,000 went to the Pipe Trades Foundation for training and financial support and $5000 for trades training for local high school students. The company has contributed $225,000 to Project Shop Class, a construction trades program, with $100,000 earmarked for the high schools in Kitimat.
Northern Gateway’s ads both in local newspapers and on a new website yesto kitimat.ca are emphasizing long term jobs.
The latest ad says:
“The pipeline will bring jobs. But the pipeline is just the start. We’ll start to see growth in the economy and the population. We’ll see more opportunities for our kid, job training, extracurricular activities, music programs, all kinds of good stuff.”
Another of the ads, featuring Trish Parsons, Chamber of Commerce manager says:
“For me, the best thing about living in Kitimat is that you can go hiking or fishing on your way home form work. It’s a special place to live. But without jobs and stability. I worry about my kids and grandkids won’t be able to live here with me, And that’s why I want more than anything.”
The Northern Gateway ads have created vigorous debates on social media, with many of the comments opposed to the project, including resentment at the money Enbridge is spending on the ads and the idea that Northern Gateway has “infiltrated” a community event.
At the council meeting, Murray Minchin of Douglas Channel Watch pointed out that the according to the BC elections act third party advertising is capped at $3167.93 per electoral district, which given the fact that Black Press charges $8,250 for a full page colour ad in its newspapers, that if the plebiscite was a provincial election, Northern Gateway would have already far exceeded those limits.
In a free society, Enbridge Northern Gateway, as the proponent of the project, has the right to campaign on behalf of the project. It is not the same as a third party intervention in a general election.
The overall problem is the short-sighted, half-hearted approach that the District of Kitimat Council has taken with the plebiscite, which now goes beyond the confusing plebiscite question. The rules as released by District only mention signage. There was apparently no anticipation that campaign spending could be an issue, even though one side was a well-financed large corporation and therefore no research if campaign spending limits are permitted in a municipal non-binding plebiscite.
The confusing plebiscite question and now the issue of campaign spending can only raise doubts about whether or not the community accepts the results of the vote, especially if the outcome is close.
(With more controversial energy projects coming up, and the possibility of more referenda or plebiscites, the province should set clear and transparent rules for future votes.)
Plebiscite Reality Check
The Northern Gateway ads promise jobs, stability and say “we need to know everything’s going to be good for a long time, not just a year or two.”
Apart from the fact that Northern Gateway confidently believes it can foretell the future, that the pipeline will bring sustained growth in the Kitimat economy, here is what that Joint Review Panel said in its official report on the number of permanent jobs.
Northern Gateway said that the number of permanent jobs during operations would total 268.
This includes permanent workforce requirements in Edmonton, Fox Creek, Whitecourt, Grande Prairie, Tumbler Ridge, Prince George, Burns Lake, and Kitimat. It said that this also includes people expected to be employed in Kitimat to supply services associated with operations of the Kitimat Terminal, including tug operators, pilots, emergency response staff, and various other service providers.
The company said that annual spending on project operations is expected to total about $192 million. The company said that this includes $94.8 million in British Columbia, $77.6 million in Alberta, and $19.5 million in federal corporate income taxes. The company said that jobs related to operations are expected to provide opportunities for residents and offer long-term sustainable employment
benefit to the provinces.
This means that Northern Gateway will provide less than 300 permanent jobs spread across the entire pipeline route, and many of them will probably be at Enbridge headquarters in Edmonton. The number of permanent jobs at Kitimat have been estimated from as low as 25 to as high as 60. That is hardly a big boost to the Kitimat economy.
Douglas Channel Watch
Douglas Channel Watch has kept its message clear and simple.
Both in its press release and in Murray Minchin’s statement to council, he is calling on Kitimat to “send a message to Ottawa.” Given the record of the Harper government on issues such as the BC wide objections to the closing of the Kitsilano Coast Guard base, it is likely that even if there is an overwhelming “no” vote in Kitimat, Harper, his cabinet and officials will ignore the plebiscite result. It would take more pressure than from the residents of Kitimat for Harper to pay attention. Of course, the Northern Gateway may yet garner worldwide attention like the Keystone XL has. But the big problem, as the Ottawa pundits have pointed out, if you get Harper’s attention, the result is often vindictive rather than seeing someone else’s point of view. Up to now, except for an occasional obligatory visit to the Haisla Nation, for the Conservatives, Kitimat is out of sight and out of mind.
The other small mistake by Douglas Channel Watch came a couple of weeks ago when Murray Minchin, when calling for a public forum prior to the vote, said that Kitimat didn’t need a speaker like former Dawson Creek mayor Mike Bernier (now a Liberal MLA) who Minchin said took the focus off the issue of the pipeline. However, it was Bernier, who, two years ago, warned Kitimat about the problems of work camps and a potential housing crisis. It appears that Bernier’s warning fell on deaf ears, given the current housing crisis in Kitimat.
Earlier this story said “Douglas Channel Watch is also hosting an event with author Arno Kopecky at Riverlodge on Saturday March 29th at 7 pm for a talk on his book Oil Man and the Sea, Navigating the Northern Gateway.” Douglas Channel Watch says it is not hosting the event, but members of the group were spreading the word about Kopecky’s appearance.
Fisheries and Oceans has once again snubbed District of Kitimat Council, by refusing to appear in public before council to answer questions about key issues.
At the Monday, March 10 council meeting, the snub was on the issue of who is responsible for the Kitimat River, facing “increased usage of the riverbank during future construction periods” as well as concerns raised by council earlier over waste left by campers.
In the fall, DFO also refused to appear before council when the department was asked to do so on the issue of Clio Bay remediation.
A report to Council from the District’s Deputy Administrative Officer, Warren Waycheshen, noted that district administration “was recently advised that Fisheries and Oceans are unable to participate in Council meetings, however, they will continue to meet at an operational level to provide information on DFO’s regulatory role.
Waycheshen’s report noted” “District Staff will continue to correspond with Fisheries and Oceans on riverbank camping, and when another operational meeting can be coordinated, Council will be advised of the date and time.”
In other words, DFO officials will continue to meet with district staff and council, in private, but are not accountable to the Kitimat public for their actions, except through what district staff may report to council.
The rest of the report consisted of quotes form the amended Fisheries Act and what appears to be a printout of a DFO Power Point presentation on how it sees its current role.
So now that the federal government appears to have downloaded responsibility to the District, the riverbank ball is now in the hands of Kitimat Council, whether or not the Council actually has jurisdiction.
Councillor Phil Germuth presented a motion asking that District staff prepare a map showing who exactly owns the land along the Kitimat River and what that land is being used for.
In the debate, Councillor Corrine Scott noted, “The first paragraph says Fisheries and Oceans won’t attend a council meeting. Fine, we’ve got that part. But then that’s it. Everything else is about the fisheries protection program and policy statements and all the rest of it. But it doesn’t actually answer the question about any concerns regarding waste left by campers and whether its okay or whether we should be putting in more garbage cans or that sort of thing.
“That’s what I was looking for from a report. What should the setbacks be? Should there be any setbacks. Should there be any camping? Do we have to have a certain number of receptacles for garbage? I just don’t know. I was expecting more than what we got out of this report.”
Councillors Mary Murphy and Mario Feldhoff noted that the District has done reports on how the riverbank is used.
District Planner Daniel Martin told Council that DFO has said the department has “no real concerns’ about people camping on the river “unless they begin to destroy fish habitat.” DFO told Kitimat staff. “If the District has concern about access to the river, then control access to the river.”
“I know that we have a report, it was a very, very good report,” Scott then said. “That’s not what we’re talking about. I was waiting to hear what Fisheries and Oceans has to say, I know what we’ve got and what we’re doing and what is being monitored. I thought motion was to find out from Fisheries and Oceans if there was some kind of other issues we should know about.” Scott noted that if Martin’s statement had been included in the report, she would have been satisfied. “I was waiting to hear what the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had to say.”
Germuth then pointed out that he wanted to know who the landowners are so if Council descies to control access to the river because, “If we put a gate up on the river, we’re not just controlling access for campers, we’re controlling access for everyone else that wants to go through. I want to know who owns the land, so if we decide to do something, we can chat with landowners.
“We’re not going to get anywhere with DFO,” Feldhoff said. “They’ve been here in the past, and , as I recall, they said they don’t think there is a problem. We may think there’s a problem but they don’t think it’s high enough in terms of priorities. So we might want to reacquaint ourselves with what was going on. There are enough reports to choke a horse, going back at least ten years.”
“Longer that that, I do believe,” Mayor Joanne Monaghan interjected.
Councillor Edwin Empinado agreed with Scott saying, “The response from DFO didn’t really answer the motion [the original question from Council]. Fisheries just gives us the Fisheries Act, their policies, regulations, guidelines, program changes. It doesn’t talk about riverbanks.”
District of Kitimat Council will take another look at the Northern Gateway project plebiscite next Monday, March 3, when it considers a motion from Councillor Phil Germuth to cancel the vote altogether.
This Monday, February 24, Council voted to cancel the “undecided” option on the ballot, leaving voters with a simple yes or no question. That decision costs the district taxpayers $500, since council was told by the deputy administrative officer, Warren Waycheshen that the ballots had already been printed.
The question of whether “undecided” was still on the ballot came up as council was discussing the advertising campaign for the coming plebiscite—if it survives next Monday’ s vote. Apparently after the confusing Council session on January 20, some members of council believed that the “undecided” option had already been eliminated.
“Can I get clarification on it. I thought it was going to be strictly: yes or no?” Germuth asked.
There was apparently some confusion among District staff after the meeting as well. Waycheshen said he and other staff members had reviewed the minutes of that meeting and concluded there was no motions that dropped “undecided.”
Asked about the ballots, Waycheshen replied the ballots had already been ordered, but the $500 cost was minimal. He told Council that amount should not stand in their way if they wanted to amend the response to the question.
Both Germuth and Mayor Joanne Monaghan said that by now everyone should now how they feel. Germuth said that leaving the undecided option might lead to misinterpreted results.
District staff will wait until next Monday and the vote on Germuth’s motion to cancel the plebiscite altogether before ordering new ballots.
Earlier in the evening, it was not clear whether or not everyone in the Kitimat community “should know how they feel.” Murray Minchin of Douglas Channel Watch gave a preview of the environmental group’s campaign for a no vote:
Minchin began by rereading the plebiscite question.
Do you support the final report recommendations of the Joint Review Panel (JRP) of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and National Energy Board, that the Enbridge Northern Gateway project be approved, subject to 209 conditions set out in Volume 2 of the JRP’s final report?”
Minchin then gave Council some samples of what will be a longer presentation at Riverlodge on Wednesday night.
He pointed to Condition #1 “Northern Gateway must comply with all the certificate conditions, unless the NEB otherwise directs.”
Minchin told council, “This means the plebiscite will be held on something that might not exist. It’s written in smoke and deposited on mirrors. Why are we voting on the Joint Review Panel conditions when they can be altered or removed at any time?”
He also said Condition 169, which calls on Enbridge to file a plan for a research program on spilled oil was rather late, “far into the game,” he said, and thus an example of how the conditions had no teeth.
Minchin said even those who support the project should be concerned about other conditions, including one that calls on Northern Gateway to notify the National Energy Board if they plan to hire foreign temporary workers.
“What about all of these jobs for Canadians which we have been hearing about since day one. It is supposed to be a job generating project for Canadians,” he asked Council.
He said the Joint Review Panel should have had conditions that there be no foreign temporary workers or that a certain percentage of jobs should go to Canadians and to people from the region.
Douglas Channel Watch will be hosting what they call “a community information forum” called ‘Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Enbridge Plebiscite, but Were Afraid to Ask.’ –in effect a campaign for the no side,. at Riverlodge on Wednesday, February 26th at 7:00 pm. Minchin said DCW members who developed expertise in their role as a JRP intervenor will be speaking on various topics.