Pipeline hearings scheduled
By the end of this week, four sessions will have been held - in Inuvik, Yellowknife, Fort Good Hope and Fort Simpson - to help the panel set the agenda and schedule for the busy 13-stop review tour that includes 11 NWT communities as well as two in Alberta.
"We won't be discussing matters related to the project," said panel chair Kenneth Vollman of the four planning sessions. "We're here to gather the public's views on the hearing process itself."
Emphasizing the list is preliminary at this point, he said there is still the option to add other communities to the list if enough interest is expressed.
Once the hearings begin, different topics will be discussed at each stop. This has led to concern from residents that they might not be able to hear the total package when the tour rolls by their community.
"A process should be developed that will allow for lots of local interest," said Richard Neufeld, speaking at the Inuvik planning meeting. Neufeld is a lawyer representing the Mackenzie Explorers Group, a consortium of petroleum companies active in the North, but separate from project proponents Imperial, Shell, ConocoPhillips and the Aboriginal Pipeline Group.
"Route and site selection is really important for people (here) to discuss and there is some concern," said Albert Elias, a representative the Inuvialuit Land Administration Committee.
Smaller communities and groups in particular are worried they'll miss out on key components of the proposed mega-project due to this piecemeal approach.
"We are a small First Nation with only three staff in our office," said Chief Karen Felker. Her West Point First Nation is located within the boundaries of Hay River. Public hearings for the Hub are scheduled for two days and expected to cover design, construction and operation of the pipeline.
"There are a lot of other issues we are interested in," she said. "How will this affect the Deh Cho when we are still in negotiations over our land claim?"
Norman Wells Mayor Ann Marie Tout is pleased hearings are scheduled for her community, but she would like to see discussions around tolls and tariffs happen there, too.
"What access will there be to the pipeline and will Norman Wells have access to any of the natural gas?" she said listing some of the questions she'd like to be able to ask when the hearings come to town.
The final schedule and topics will be ready around Dec. 19, said Denis Tremblay, communications officer with the National Energy Board.
A final report from the public hearings, that will incorporate the Joint Review Panel's recommendations as a minimum starting point, will be submitted to federal cabinet sometime around mid-2007.