KAMLOOPS — Two days of panel discussions regarding the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion began today, July 19, at Thompson Rivers University.
A three-person ministerial panel is collecting information from community groups and residents who will be directly affected by the path of the pipeline. They will then report their findings to the federal Ministers of Environment and Natural Resources later this year. Kamloops is the first BC community scheduled to take part in these round table discussions.
The discussions are not meant to replace the National Energy Board's environmental assessment and regulatory review, but aim to determine if any information was missed though that process.
WATCH: Full report by Jill Sperling
Whether standing in support, or steadfast in opposition to the proposed pipeline expansion project, Kamloops and area residents proved passionate about the issue. People on both sides of the debate were given the opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions as the first sessions commenced at the Irving K. Barber Centre on the TRU Campus.
"I think this process just shows that people have a lot of views on this, a lot of passionate views about this, and I'm glad that they're availing themselves to come in person and let their thoughts be known." panelist Kim Baird said.
Streets and Environmental Services Manager, Glen Farrow spoke on behalf of the City of Kamloops. He said the city remains neutral on the pipeline proposal, but has concerns that the project will cause major traffic disruptions and will have to navigate around city infrastructure.
"There's a significant amount of utilities, so water, sewer, and storm crossings, through the pipeline route and with that there'll be challenges," Farrow said. "There's about 11 or 12 significant road crossings as well as impacts on some of the nature parks throughout the community such as Kenna Cartwright Park, Lac du Bois Grasslands, as well as the dog park on Ord Road and Mission Flats Park."
He added that an influx of workers in the city could have an impact on the healthcare system and that there are concerns regarding air quality.
Farrow said the one firm stance that the city has taken is that the preferred route for the pipeline expansion is through the Lac du Bois Grasslands rather than the Westsyde neighbourhoods.
Mayor of Merritt, Neil Menard said he was in full support of the pipeline expansion, and he expects the construction process to benefit that city's economy.
"We were very concerned about the environment," Menard said. "We're very concerned about the safety. I think that's the two most important things and we believe that Trans Mountain has assured us that number 1: it is going to be very knowledgeable and very careful about the environment and they are going to make sure that it is as safe, if not safer, than the pipeline that is going through our community today."
Menard said the current pipeline running through Merritt has been in place for more than 60 years and had never caused any problems.
Kamloops City Councillor, Donovan Cavers, who took part in the discussions not as a representative of the city, but as a concerned citizen, was less optimistic than Menard. He doesn't believe the pipeline expansion will carry much in the way of economic benefits.
"During the construction phase they would be obviously quite substantial, but in the long term, it's basically half a dozen maintenance jobs," Cavers said. "It's not going to be a huge economic factor for our region."
Others, like Fawn Knox, were concerned that a twinned pipeline, carrying three times the amount of bitumen, would increase health risks.
"I don't think we know its health impacts and of course I don't know if we know how to effectively respond to a bitumen spill," Knox said.
The Trans Mountain pipeline runs through Knox's property.
The one recurring theme throughout the day's discussions was a lack of promotion for the event.
Panelist Kim Baird acknowledged that media coverage had not reached everyone, but said more resources are being put into advertising the rest of the panel schedule.
First Nations leaders involved in the second session of panel discussion for the pipeline expansion were also unimpressed by how the event was organized.
A lack of notice was said to be disrespectful to the Secwepemc people, the largest First Nation in the BC interior.
While individual bands have signed off on the pipeline, the panel was informed that proper collective consultations have not taken place.
Chief Ryan Day of Bonaparte Indian Band said allowing the expanded pipeline to cut through traditional lands would bring with it the drug abuse, gang violence and crime attributed to a disconnect from the land.
"What we're really talking about when we're talking about a new pipeline and expanding the tar-sands, we're talking about a balance of lives," Day said. "People will die, lives will be shortened by disease, youth will take their own lives, people will not have their fundamental connection to the land."
Most speakers said there must be consent from the impacted First Nation Communities in order for the pipeline project to move forward.
Mike Lebourdais, Former chief of Whispering Pines - Clinton Indian Band, said it was important that First Nations would be able to enjoy the tax benefits from having the pipeline run through their land.
"I want the money from our resources, I want to be able to tax the pipelines, I want to tax the mines, I want to tax the forest companies," Lebourdais said. "That's what I want, and that's what we're trying to develop at the First Nations Tax Commission, that's what we're trying to develop ... so that we can pay for our health, so that we can pay for our education, so that we can pay for our elders, so that we can pay to protect our environment, so we can build better pipes, we can build better bridges, we can build better railways."
The second and final day of panel discussions resumes tomorrow, July 20, at 9 a.m.
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