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Northern Gateway hearings on move to Terrace, B.C.

Kitimat area residents were almost unanimous in their rejection of the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline project during two days of public hearings, and now it's time for other northwest B.C. communities to provide their views on the development.

The Northern Gateway project joint review panel assessing the environmental effects of the proposed project moves to Terrace today and Smithers on Monday.

Hundreds of people gathered at a community hall in the aboriginal community of Kitamaat Village to address the three-member panel, with all but one of the more than one dozen individuals and groups denouncing the project on environmental, social and cultural grounds.

Kitamaat Village aboriginal chiefs, representing generations of leadership in the sea-going community, said the risk of an oil spill along their coast or a pipeline rupture in their territory is akin to pointing a loaded double-barrelled shotgun at their heads.

The elected chief counsellor of Kitamaat's Haisla Nation, Ellis Ross, urged the panel not to allow his people to become collateral damage for plans to ship Alberta oil to Asia.

Ross spoke for more than an hour, receiving a standing ovation from the more than 400 people in the audience, and a hug from his mother who waited with dozens of people to congratulate the chief on his panel address.

Other Kitimat residents spoke against the pipeline proposal, saying the area's Douglas Channel that leads into Kitimat and surrounding northwest coast waters pose too many safety and weather hazards for tankers to safely transport oil from the area.

Enbridge Inc., (TSX:ENB) wants to build an 1,170-kilometre twin pipeline from Bruderheim, Alberta to northwest B.C. where it will send oil to a port facility at Kitimat where huge tanker ships will transport it to Asian markets.

Enbridge says the $5.5 billion pipeline project has the potential to generate $270 billion to the Canadian economy, but environmental groups and aboriginals say the risks of a pipeline and oil tanker spill are too great — threatening fish-bearing rivers and the West Coast.

Only Kitimat steam fitter Peter King, a Kitimat resident for 53 years, spoke in favour of the project.

He said he shares environmental concerns about Northern Gateway, but doesn't believe it's fair for Canada to horde its oil resources from the rest of the world.

On the streets of Kitimat, many locals did not want to publicly support the project, refusing to offer support or their names.

But several business operators said privately they don't believe the pipeline will bring lasting jobs to Kitimat.

The construction of the pipeline and port facility will provide up to 3,000 temporary construction jobs but once the pipeline and port are running, the project will create about 104 permanent jobs in Alberta and B.C., with about half the B.C. jobs in Kitimat.

Some Kitimat business people said they were concerned that the construction workers will be housed in camps near town, spending little money in town, other than at bars and liquor stores.

Kitimat, once known as a thriving company town of about 12,000 people, with most working directly or indirectly at the Rio Tinto aluminum smelter, hit hard times in the recent years, with Kitimat registering the largest population decline in Canada, according to 2006 Census statistics.

The current population of Kitimat is about 9,000, but that is expected to rise slightly with the promise of the pipeline project and the B.C. government's plans to support the growth of three liquefied natural gas export terminals at Kitimat by 2020.

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