Credits: IAN KUCERAK/QMI AGENCY
July's annual festival in Port Hardy's Rotary Park heralds fishing, logging and mining. With the help of fireworks, bake sales and beer gardens and fireworks, the town that functions as a sort of regional capital at the northern tip of Vancouver Island celebrates its dependence on natural resources.
With a long coast and some 20,000 jobs depend on the fishing industry and aquaculture, Bev Parnham says she has her constituents at heart when she opposes the pipeline.
"We have huge concerns about what a spill could do to our ecosystem. It could put at jeopardy 20,000 jobs," Parnham said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said science, not politics, will determine the fate of the pipeline. Parnham's concerned about what she's heard about the science of bitumen, that it's cut with "an incredibly toxic mix" and what that could do, in a spill, to the tourism industry and the B.C. coast's "pristine environment."
There's a windfarm north of Port Hardy, mining exploration, construction, fishing and aquaculture, fish processing and secondary fish processing. The forest industry had a good year, Parnham said.
Island towns dependent on natural resources have been dogged for decades by environmental lobbyists that have wreaked havoc with mining and logging industry efforts throughout BC and Parnham acknowledges what appears to be a contradiction.
"Even though we are extractors of resources ourselves, we do have some grave concerns about (shipping bitumen)," she said.
She said the current company contracted to clean up coastal spills has small offices in Prince Rupert, Nanaimo and Vancouver, and is ill-prepared to deal with spills. Parnham said the company has cited long response times and an inability to recover more than a fraction of a spill of any magnitude.
"With 95% ending up on the bottom of the ocean, for all intents and purposes that could destroy the whole ecosystem," she said.
Parnham is well aware that Northern Gateway parent company, Enbridge, was recently chastised by American regulators for poor responses to spill hazards resulting in America's largest ever land spill in 2010 in Michigan.
"Enbridge's reputation precedes them," she said.
Parnham said the idea of refining bitumen into lighter petroleum products at David Black's proposed $13-billion Kitimat upgrader could have some merit, if it's feasible and investors will bite. Even so, existing spill containment measures are inadequate to handle oil tankers, she said.
"I think this is a project British Columbians are not welcoming," she said, citing risks to "environment, jobs and coastal lifestyle."
"There would have to be a lot of changes and guarantees - can they guarantee it? No. I believe it's inevitable that during the pipeline's 50-year life there would be spills," she said.
Parnham said she's interested to hear her fellow mayors' opinions at the Union of BC Municipalities conference Sept. 24 to 28 in Victoria, and she will be paying close attention to the Northern Gateway hearings coming to BC in October as well.
"There's a huge number of concerns that have been brought up that haven't been answered," she said.
"The federal government has to look at the interests of all the provinces, not just those that benefit most," she said.