BELLA BELLA, B.C. — The National Energy Board says meetings are underway to resume public hearings before the joint review panel examining the controversial Enbridge (TSX:ENB) Northern Gateway pipeline project.
The first of four days of scheduled hearings in the remote coastal B.C. community of Bella Bella was abruptly cancelled Monday by the panel.
Energy board spokeswoman Kristen Higgins said logistical issues related to the presentation of evidence in the community about 300 kilometres south of Prince Rupert are being reviewed before any decision is made to restart the hearings.
Placard-carrying opponents to the pipeline greeted review panel members Sunday when they arrived in Bella Bella. They did not attend a community welcoming gathering later in the day.
But Higgins would not confirm local comments that the panel members were uncomfortable with the reception they received in Bella Bella.
“That’s not the panel’s view,” Higgins said. “They were working out some logistical issues with the community leadership today. That’s what they are working on. They are meeting with community leadership to figure out what’s the best way to receive the oral, traditional knowledge of the Heiltsuk Nation.”
A terse update posted on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency web page dealing with the Northern Gateway review panel said the three members would not be sitting on Monday.
North Coast New Democrat Gary Coons, who represents Bella Bella, said he arrived on the same flight Sunday as the review panel members and did not sense they were concerned with the reception they received.
But he said they were greeted with a throng of passionate opponents to the pipeline project.
“Probably 300 people, community people, a very respectful, peaceful protest,” said Coons. “I was somewhat surprised and shocked that the panel would have felt there was a perception of security issues.”
He said he saw aboriginal leaders and RCMP members meeting Monday at the community hall where the meetings were scheduled to be held until Thursday.
Heiltsuk First Nation Chief Coun. Marilyn Slett said Sunday the panel did not “feel that they are not in a safe environment.”
Slett said a notice from the joint panel was received shortly after members Sheila Leggett, Kenneth Bateman and Hans Matthews arrived at the Bella Bella airport.
Opponents also lined the road from the airport to the village to demonstrate their concerns about the pipeline project.
Local students, with the support of the Bella Bella Community School, are participating in a 48-hour hunger strike to draw attention to their opposition to the pipeline project, Coons said.
Slett said the airport reception was emotional and powerful, but remained respectful and peaceful.
“We want to let them know that they are completely safe in our community,” she said. “It is really offensive to have to go over to convey this to the Joint Review Panel. We are a peaceful people.”
The panel has been met with protests since the hearings started in January in Kitimat, but no dates were cancelled until Monday.
The joint review panel is assessing the potential environmental impacts of the proposed project and reviewing the project’s application under both the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the National Energy Board Act.
The panel is scheduled to conduct 18 months of public hearings across British Columbia and Alberta and will decide on whether the project is in the public interest.
The $5.5-billion Enbridge project includes plans to construct a 1,100-kilometre twin pipeline to transport Alberta oil from the Edmonton-area to a port in Kitimat, in northwest B.C., for shipment overseas.