Bella Bella F.N. try to get Enbridge’s Northern Gateway hearing back on track
Mike Hager, Vancouver Sun : Monday, April 02, 2012 11:06 AM

Protests by first nations groups have dogged the Northern Gateway pipeline. Public hearings for the Northern Gateway pipeline have been cancelled this morning in the coastal community of Bella Bella. Photograph by: Jason Payne;Vancouver Sun

BELLA BELLA – Members of the Heiltsuk First Nation are negotiating with the review panel this morning in Bella Bella to try to get the scheduled hearings on Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline back on track amid safety concerns.

The panel pulled out of today’s hearing citing insecurity after its members were met by about 200 singing and drumming protesters outside the airport Sunday. The two sides are meeting at 9 a.m. to decide on how and if the four days of hearings scheduled for the coastal community will proceed.

Heiltsuk First Nation Chief Councillor Marilynn Slett said the panel notified her nation last night that its airport reception led it to cancel today’s hearings because it felt unable to “conduct the hearings in a safe and secure environment.”

The post on the Joint Review Panel’s website does not give a reason why the panel pulled out of today’s hearing, or whether the three other days of public consultation that were planned for this week have also been cancelled.

“Certainly we have people that are very passionate about the Joint Review Panel hearings, but there were no threats,” Slett told The Sun. “It was very respectful and peaceful.”

As the panel flew into town Sunday about 200 protesters met them on the tarmac, waving signs opposing the pipeline and the supertanker marine traffic it would bring. Slett said the Heiltsuk protesters were also welcoming their Chief Woyala, also known as Toby Moody, who shared the panel’s flight in from Vancouver.

The RCMP said the protest was “very peaceful” and it has no knowledge of any incidents.

“From what I understand it was a peaceful demonstration – there were religious regalia being worn by band members and there was drumming, and singing as well, at the airport,” said Const. Lesley Smith, an RCMP spokeswoman for the North District of B.C.

About 30 to 40 Bella Bella high school students started a 48-hour hunger strike yesterday at 4 p.m. to mark the panel’s arrival in their community and their opposition to the pipeline’s possible environmental risks.

On Saturday, 150 university and local high school students fanned out across Premier Christy Clark’s Vancouver-Point Grey riding asking for signatures on a petition urging the premier to oppose the $5.5-billion oil pipeline. That same day dozens of protesters rallied outside the panel’s hearing in Comox, on Vancouver Island.

While first nations, environmentalists and some communities that oppose the pipeline are concerned about the impact of an oil spill, the students argued the oil flowing through the pipeline will produce more carbon emissions than are already produced in British Columbia. The students said they don’t like the fact that Canada is exporting greenhouse gas emissions.

The panel – led by Sheila Leggett, vice-chair of the National Energy Board – is touring B.C. and Alberta to hear from the public on Enbridge’s proposed pipeline from the Albertan oil sands near Edmonton to the port of Kitimat. Based on the hearings, which could go into next spring, the panel will submit an environmental assessment report to the federal environment minister along with its conclusions and recommendations.

Once the government responds to the report, the panel will make a final decision on whether or not to approve the project under the National Energy Board Act.

The panel is an independent body mandated by the Minister of the Environment and the National Energy Board.

The opening day of the hearings were overshadowed somewhat by the open letter and comments made by Joe Oliver, Canada’s minister of Natural Resources.

In his letter, Oliver charged that environmentalists “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda. They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects.”

Over 4,500 people have signed up to give oral submissions to the panel.

© Shaw Media Inc., 2012. All rights reserved.

Read it on Global News: Global BC | Bella Bella F.N. try to get Enbridge’s Northern Gateway hearing back on track

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