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Panel begins Island hearings on proposed oil pipeline

Mar 31 2012

Opponents are mobilizing as the federal panel looking at the proposed $5.5-billion pipeline from the Alberta oilsands to Kitimat holds its first hearings on Vancouver Island.

The Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel's hearings at Comox Community Centre began Friday and continue today.

Two presentations will be made as oral evidence - meaning presenters can be questioned - and 45 preregistered people will make 10-minute oral statements.

Protest-rally organizer Marie Gaudreau is hoping to see thousands of demonstrators outside at 1 p.m. today, wearing blue scarves to represent the water they want to protect.

"I just hope to see citizens of all ages and economic background," Gaudreau said.

"People who are concerned about what will happen to our coastline and the Great Bear Rainforest if there happens to be a spill."

Many people did not realize they had to register last year to speak at the hearings, and the rally and follow-up panel discussion will give them a voice, Gaudreau said.

But Environmental Assessment Agency spokeswoman Annie Roy said the panel considers only what's on the record, not what's going on outside.

In Bella Bella, where the panel is to stop next, a group of young people from Heiltsuk First Nation is planning a 48-hour hunger strike, starting Sunday.

The teens are reaching out to others through social media and are hoping students around the world join in.

"One day, there will be an oil spill and all the resources we get from the ocean will be gone," said Jasmine White, a Grade 12 student at Bella Bella Community School.

"I am hoping Enbridge will open their eyes."

According to a poll of 611 British Columbians conducted by Justason Market Intelligence between Feb. 24 and March 7, 66 per cent of those surveyed oppose the Enbridge proposal and 22 per cent support it.

The poll was sponsored by environmental groups and the margin of error is plus or minus four per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The figures show opposition is particularly strong on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, where 71 per cent oppose the proposed pipeline, including 61 per cent who strongly oppose it.

The panel, which will review the application under the Environmental Assessment Act and National Energy Board Act, will return to Vancouver Island between November and March, when hearings will be held in Comox and in Victoria.

It expects to make a recommendation to the government by the end of next year.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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