A say on the pipeline
Liard residents voice support, concerns over gas pipeline project

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

FORT SIMPSON (Oct 01/99) - Community members in Fort Liard who attended public hearings regarding a proposed gas pipeline tie-in project north of their community waded through the pros, the cons and the unknowns about the issue.

Close to 20 Fort Liard residents turned out on each of two consecutive nights of public hearings held by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board (MVEIRB) last week. The MVEIRB is a public board collecting input to help establish terms of reference for the gas companies -- Chevron, Ranger Oil and Canadian Forest Oil -- involved with the project.

Elizabeth Bertrand, who has been a vocal opponent of the gas development in Fort Liard, said there has been a lack of communication from Acho Dene Koe band leadership to community members regarding development. The elders and the rest of the community should have been asked for their advice from the beginning, she contended. She also said the whole project has been moving too fast.

"I would like to see this pipeline stalled until we see this environmental study," she said.

After a presentation by a Chevron engineer Brian Klammer, she said, "We're still going in circles... all the speakers are saying the same thing again and (they) make it look like a perfect picture when the pipeline goes in, but that's not the way it is."

As for the argument that jobs are being created by the industry, Bertrand wasn't convinced.

"Sure there are jobs, but once the pipeline is through and you're all gone, what are we going to have left? We're going to have nothing," she said. "All I see is just taking, taking and giving nothing back.

Klammer admitted that the number of jobs will dwindle after the construction phases, from a peak of hundreds to just six to maintain the pipeline and operate the associated facilities.

There will, he noted, be remaining spin off jobs and a commitment by the gas companies to provide training that will make local workers employable elsewhere, if they choose to follow the industry.

Bertrand escorted two elders into and out of the meeting. Both elders said they live in the bush and know very little about the proposed project and they had hoped to learn more from what others said on Wednesday evening.

Derek Melton, representing Golder and Associates, an environmental consulting firm, explained that traditional knowledge studies had been conducted with local elders twice. The first was done with 22 elders in 1998 and the latest was conducted earlier this year with eight more elders. As well, a scientific study was done, he added.

Shane Parrish, general manger of the Fort Liard Development Corporation, said he's excited about what is going on in Fort Liard. He deemed the band's decisions regarding its resources as "bold," requiring "a lot of vision" and "determination," but not without its detractors.

"A lot of rocks get thrown at you along the way," he admitted.

Parrish said the experience with Amoco's Pointed Mountain project, which began 27 years ago, was proof that business is now being done differently. The Acho Dene Koe, he noted, received no benefits from Amoco's project, but has since grown more influential.

"The band has the say on the issuance of exploration licences. You could say, in a sense, the band has its fingers on the tap," he said, adding that they can essentially "turn off the tap," as they did in 1996 when the last exploration licence was issued.

The Acho Dene Koe have become involved in a number of joint-venture partnerships, such as drilling, helicopter service and, potentially, even part ownership of a pipeline.

As well, they created a number of service sector companies such as Beaver Enterprises, Liard Fuel Centre and Deh Cho Air. This has enabled the band to capture a significant portion of the roughly $200 million invested by the gas industry in the area, he said. The band corporations are expected to generate close to $25 million in revenues in 1999 alone, according to a graph in an information package he distributed.

"As Chief Deneron says, there will be no more Amocos," Parrish said.

There is also a concerted effort to hire from within the community and to employ Northern aboriginal people, he said.

"I think we're beating the hell out of BHP, without a lot of government assistance," he said. "I think we've done a fairly good job of managing this tremendous growth."

Delays in the permitting process have an adverse affect on the local economy, he said.

Consequently, more pressure is placed on Acho Dene Koe employees, and when they "can't deliver" the benefits wind up going to B.C. or Alberta, he noted.

"Who benefits? Is it going to be Fort Liard? I can tell you right now it's not," he said.

Joanne Deneron, a band member, said some of the naysayers were expressing personal issues and community issues that are entirely unrelated to the gas industry.

"I don't think the board came in here to listen to all the dirty laundry," she said. "Other communities have the same problems we do."

Deneron said those who feel there has been a lack of communication over the issue are listening with deaf ears -- they don't want to hear.

The community is currently benefitting from more jobs, better education and more housing than ever before, Deneron says.

"Sure we have a long way to go in training and development in this community, but I think the effort is being made," she said, adding that some employees have moved progressively up the ladder. "Rome wasn't built in a day either."

There are related social issues that come with the greater prosperity, but its up to the community to strike a balance and work together on them, she suggested.

"If a person isn't working in Fort Liard here, it's because they're handicapped or they don't want to work," she said. "...don't expect the oil and gas companies to do everything for them."