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Different meeting, same old concerns

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Mar 04/05) - An information session to outline the upcoming pipeline review processes, saw residents from around the region turn out to relay their concerns regarding the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline.

Harkening back to the Berger Inquiry of the 1970s, Aklavik Mayor Billy Archie told representatives from the Northern Gas Project Secretariat (NGPS), National Energy Board (NEB) and Joint Review Panel (JRP) that things haven't really changed.

"All the concerns people had back then are still here," he said of a general worry many in the region share about the social impacts of the proposed mega-project. Archie added that before the proponents expect people to support the pipeline, royalty and revenue sharing agreements have to be hammered out.

Joining the list of concerned citizens was elder Charlie Snowshoe who also voiced his concerns.

"Look at the social problems right now," he said. "Don't wait for the (Joint Review) panel to come, tell (the federal government) now."

Ron Gruben spoke of environmental scars left by previous oil and gas exploration and expressed his concern about possible dredging of the delta to prepare for a proposed gas field operation.

While representatives from NGPS, NEB and JRP listened to the concerns, the aim of the meeting was to provide information about the upcoming review processes and how the public can get involved.

According to NEB Public Affairs Officer Ross Hicks, NEB and JRP hearings are expected to begin in the fall.

In addition to assessing the pipeline proponents' Environmental Impact Statement, the role of the JRP will be to gauge the social and environmental impacts of the pipeline and make recommendations to a federal cabinet committee in Ottawa. This report will then be incorporated as NEB evidence for its decision regarding the project.

"In the end, it is the National Energy Board that says yes or no to the pipeline," Hicks said in an interview Monday afternoon.

During part of the information session, Hicks described the process as quasi-judicial in nature where all evidence submitted would be weighed.

Focus on the technical aspects

NEB hearings will focus on the technical aspects of the project, including supply, safety, tolls and tariffs and the economic feasibility of the proposed pipeline. The NEB will also monitor the pipeline throughout its construction and operating life, conducting inspections and audits to ensure the proponents are living up to their obligations.

No dates for either the JRP or the NEB hearings have been scheduled. Officials at Monday evening's meeting did speak of a possible pre-hearings conference in June to prepare those taking part in the hearings for what they can expect.

Both the NEB and JRP will be taking statements from the public, which can be submitted either in writing or made in person at the upcoming hearings.

Where it's at

According to timelines, the initial review is finished. This involved the Environmental Impact Statement and five permit applications for construction of gas fields, transfer pipeline and natural gas pipeline.

There is also an application for a liquid natural gas pipeline to Norman Wells.

The next phase will be public hearings by the Joint Review Panel, NEB, Gwich'in Land and Water Board, NWT Water Board and Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board.

After that, the JRP will issue its report, followed by the government's response. During this period, the NEB will adjourn. Once that step is complete, the NEB will reconvene and issue its decision.

According to Hicks, a 13-year employee for the board, the federal government has never gone against NEB recommendations.

At the information session, Hicks, in response to one person's question cited some recent decisions where the NEB recommended that a project not proceed.

The board is charged with overseeing any electricity or fuel transmission which crosses international, provincial or territorial borders.