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Enbridge pipeline bad for business: chamber of commerce

The Chamber of Commerce representing businesses on B.C.'s central coast has come out against Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, the latest group to publicly stake out a position on this controversial project.

The Coastal First Nations, an alliance of nine First Nations in the region, declared an outright ban on oil tankers passing through their traditional territories this spring, and municipalities on the Haida Gwaii islands also recently united in their opposition to the project and the tanker traffic it would bring.

On the other side is the Enbridge-backed Northern Gateway Alliance, "a coalition of community leaders supporting the regulatory review of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines project" according to its website, whose members include the chair of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce and the mayors of Kitimat, Mackenzie and Prince George.

(Although the municipality of Kitimat is officially neutral on the project, its mayor, Joanne Monaghan, recently faced criticism after her photo and a quote espousing the potential economic benefits of the project appeared on an Enbridge pamphlet that was mailed to local residents.)

But Ingmar Lee, director of the Central Coast Chamber of Commerce (CCCC) -- which represents mostly tourism operators and independent contractors on Denny Island and in nearby Bella Bella -- is as critical of industry-backed Gateway supporters as he is of its government-funded opponents.

He said environmental non-governmental organizations like the Dogwood Initiative are, in his opinion, "undermining the power of the Coastal First Nations declaration and the citizens' groups opposing the project," because of its involvement in the regulatory process.

"There's nothing to talk about at the CEAA [Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency] beyond 'no' and 'never,'" said Lee. "Anything else that they're going to talk about is going to be focused on mitigation. There's just no way to mitigate against this."

Eric Swanson, corporate campaigner for the Dogwood Initiative, said he was surprised to hear Lee's comments.

"There's an impressive coalition of groups and individuals working against Gateway," he said. "We fully support Coastal First Nations. We're all on the same general page."

His group received funding from the CEAA to make a submission to the Joint Federal Review Panel, which is conducting an environmental assessment of the project. The submission will include a broad review of the cumulative environmental impacts of Gateway as well as a review of the need and necessity of the project.

Swanson said there was some internal debate about whether or not to participate in a process that his organization also considers flawed.

"Our problem with the review process is first, it completely fails in the Crown's constitutional duties to meaningfully consult and accommodate First Nations," said Swanson. "And it doesn't give citizens of British Columbia an opportunity to say, 'do we want this project or do we not want this project.'"

"We felt it was entirely consistent to point out the flaws in Enbridge's applications while at the same time maintaining our position that the process is fundamentally flawed," Swanson said.

As for the Northern Gateway Alliance, chair Colin Kinsley said its role is "to have supporters informed, through this process, this regulatory review process." Kinsley said the project would result in about a billion dollars worth of taxes for northern municipalities. "That's huge. . . there's communities up here with 80 per cent unemployment."

Lee doesn't buy the economic argument.

"It was clear to everybody that there was no benefit economically, socially, environmentally, anything, no possible benefit that any of the business owners or anybody could see coming to our community," he said. "There's several thousand people that depend on the local areas for the food fishery. Every business in our community depends on this magnificent clean environment that we have here."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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