Former Port Hardy Mayor Russ Hellberg made national headlines last week as the community hearings on the Enbridge Pipeline wrapped up in Vancouver.
According to figures released by two environmental groups, 1,161 people spoke before the hearings on the Northern gateway project but only two spoke in favour of the project.
One of those assenting voices was that of Hellberg, who spoke at the hearing in Port Hardy in favour of the proposed plan to pipe Albertan oil products to tankers on the B.C. coast. According to releases last week he and one-time Liberal MLA Dennis MacKay were the sole proponents of the plan.
“I find the numbers suspect. I find it hard to believe only two of us were in favour,” Hellberg said last week, adding he did not believe that the quoted numbers were representative of public opinion.
He reaffirmed his belief in the project regardless of the figures.
“I think what it will do is provide a burst of economic development along the coast. It won’t directly benefit us (on the North Island), but anything that helps development — if safe — will help us.”
Hellberg said that in his opinion the benefits far outweigh the risks. “Everything we do in life has a risk,” said the former mayor, citing driving a car as an example.
He pointed to figures from studies which show that oil pollution from tanker spills makes up a relatively small proportion of the total oil pollution in the sea: 12 per cent, compared to seven per cent from natural seepage.
“To me it comes down to two types of people: those that believe in progress and those that want to stay stagnant,” he said.
There has been no change in opinion from critics of the plan either, as Alert Bay Mayor Michael Berry confirmed he was still adamantly in opposition.
Berry also addressed the panel at the Northern Gateway hearings, urging them to oppose the project.
In his address to the hearing, Berry, a professional biologist for more than forty years, spoke of the central importance that marine life and the aquatic environment in general have for the people of Alert Bay.
Their position was just as staight-forward as Hellberg’s: “It is not a matter of if, but when there might be a tanker or shipping disaster that would cause irreperable harm to the relatively pristine BC coastal shoreline and the open waters of the Pacific,” Berry said.
Berry’s address pointed to recent disasters in other part of the world saying, “There are no standards or best practices that could mitigate or compensate for disasters such as these along or near our coast.”
He pointed out that all the Earth’s oceans are connected and any disaster has serious knock-on implications for a wide area, as pollutants enter the food chain.
He and other residents summed up by saying,
“We simply have far too much to lose and virtually nothing to gain,” Berry said.
The community consultation section of the hearings has now wrapped up and moved to a questioning phase, with questions being put to experts and officials on the plan. The panel will continue to hear opinions on the debate until June and is expected to present its recommendations to the government by the end of the year.