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Panel representatives get an earful

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Dec 03/04) - Representatives from pipeline regulatory panels came to Fort Simpson on Nov. 23 to introduce themselves and explain their roles.

After hearing how the respective bodies will function, community members expressed a litany of concerns relating to potential pipeline impacts.

NNSL photo

There's not enough support for local businesses seeking to benefit from a proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline, resident Dennis Nelner told regulatory panel representatives at a public information session at the Fort Simpson community hall last week. - Derek Neary/NNSL photo

Rosa Wright said she doesn't want to see Fort Simpson facing the sort of social impacts that the diamond mines have brought to Yellowknife. What precautions will be taken to head off these problems, she asked.

Bob Mahnic, socio-economic specialist with the Joint Review Panel, said his group will assess potential impacts based on input from communities, governments, intervenors and the oil and gas companies pitching the project.

Keyna Norwegian made reference to the Dehcho First Nations' court challenge against the federal government. The DFN is seeking a more meaningful role in the pipeline's environmental assessment. If the government can't be trusted to get something so important right, how can it be trusted to get the little things right, she asked rhetorically.

Norwegian pointed out that only a few dozen community members were present at the Nov. 23 meeting. How will the regulatory boards reach the "grassroots people," she asked.

Brian Chambers, executive director of the Northern Gas Project Secretariat, replied that the regulatory bodies want to work with the chiefs to bring information to band members.

When resident Dennis Nelner took the microphone, he accused the territorial Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development (RWED) of failing to adequately address business and economic development.

The department has done little to prepare over the past five years and now there's only a few years left until pipeline construction begins, Nelner contended.

"There's no support for business," he said, adding that any recommendations from upcoming public hearings on the pipeline will come too late to get RWED "off its ass."

Chambers said a summary of the night's information session would be sent to interested parties, including RWED.

"We don't have the authority to tell the territorial government what to do," Chambers remarked.

Raymond Michaud pointed out that the oil pipeline from Norman Wells didn't bring an economic boom to Fort Simpson. It resulted in "very few" long-term jobs, he noted.

The oil and gas companies proposing the current Mackenzie Valley pipeline aren't interested in enhancing community infrastructure either, Michaud charged.

"They're doing everything as cheaply as possible," he said.

He said there's an overwhelming amount of information associated with the pipeline, too much for local elected officials to review.

"We don't have lawyers. We don't have staffs of 300 working for us," said Michaud. "We are it."

Gord Daw, project manager of the National Energy Board's review panel, told Michaud to repeat his concerns at the panels' public hearings, which will take place in the upcoming months. Other residents were urged to do the same throughout the evening.

decision makers:

0/00 The Joint Review Panel will examine environmental and socio-economic impacts of the pipeline such as possible effects on air, water, land, business and employment and human well being.

0/00 The National Energy Board will oversee technical aspects of the pipeline such as design, construction, safety, routing, tolls and tariffs and economic feasibility. Along with various land and water boards, the NEB will be responsible for issuing licences and permits should the project proceed.