Skip to main content

Pipeline meeting had set parameters

By Matt Vis,
The Chronicle-Journal,
January 20 2017

A public meeting that was supposed to allow people to voice their opinions on how “significant water crossings” should be defined for a national pipeline quickly turned controversial.

Just about 30 minutes into the meeting, which was held Thursday at the Oliver Road Community Centre, the 60-person audience became divided with some people shouting at organizers as a small group of advocates attempted to make a presentation.

The two-hour consultation session was hosted by KBM Resources, a natural resources consulting firm hired by Common Voice Northwest’s Energy East Task Force, to give people a public forum to speak about what is deemed a significant water crossing in regards to TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline.

Paul Berger, who was representing Citizens United for a Sustainable Planet, Ontario Nature, Thunder Bay chapter of the Council of Canadians, Fossil Free Lakehead and Environment North, began making remarks before organizers attempted to halt his efforts.

That infuriated some audience members and eventually led to a split, as about half of the crowd moved to the back of the room to speak to consultants while the other half continued to listen to Berger.

Berger said the format of the meeting reminded him of one hosted by TransCanada where opportunities for participants to speak to one another were limited.

“We had a pretty compact little contribution to what we believed was important in terms of defining what is a significant water crossing, which to me seems to fit exactly what we were asked to come here to do,” Berger said.

“We came here ready to be happy we were listened to, and I think we leave really disappointed even that didn’t happen.”

KBM Resources senior consultant said Rike Burkhardt said the meetings had set parameters and those type of presentations don’t help to inform the process.

“I think there are a lot of ways you can give feedback to this process and some of the groups here are speaking are doing the exact same type of work we’re doing,” she said.

“It’s just that they’re tackling a different part of that in the sense that people are free to go to their meetings as well.”

The Common Voice Northwest coalition has been granted intervenor status by the National Energy Board, providing it with the opportunity to submit evidence and public opinion about the project.

Berger said he tried to tell the meeting that every waterway in the region is important.

“Because of the proximity to Lake Superior, to Lake Nipigon, to Dog Lake, to Lac des Mille Lacs, every water crossing in our area of Northwestern Ontario should be deemed significant,” Berger said.

“It’s not adequate to only protect the biggest rivers with extra protections, with valve shutoff valves on both sides. Even leaks into many of the smaller tributaries will end up causing massive disruption and destruction to the values that we’re really concerned about here in Northwestern Ontario.”

Burkhardt said there are a number of different concerns people have about the effects on waterways and what specifically should be given extra protection.

“It’s a question of where are the areas that are most important as well as what conceptually what matters to people,” Burkhardt said. “Is it drinking water? Is it species at risk or is it fish? So far the No. 1 thing on top of people’s mind is drinking water.”

Berger also had concerns about the proposal as a whole, which would convert much of an existing natural gas pipeline to flow oil from Hardisty, Alta., to Saint John, N.B.

He cited a 2011 explosion along the line that happened just outside Beardmore and expressed concern about what would have happened if the line was pumping oil.

“If that had been a dilbit (crude oil) spill, it would have come right down in through Beardmore on its way into Lake Nipigion,” Berger said. “The way the pipeline is cited topographically is different than it would be. Some of the features that would be protected or at least considered, they simply haven’t been because it was built as a natural gas pipeline.”