The three-member panel of the Joint Review Panel considering the Northern Gateway Project got a solid primer in the flora and fauna of the Kitimat area during their Kitamaat Village hearing.
Which shouldn’t have been surprising given two of the Kitimat Valley Naturalists presenters are retired teachers.
Introducing themselves to the panel, Dennis Horwood pointed out the group had 40 years of bird and mammal records and research papers.
They had also been stream keepers, working with federal Fisheries, and were “also considered by the birding community to be citizen scientists.”
Horwood explained their presentation’s purpose was to show what the area had and what it stood to lose if the project went ahead.
He pointed out that the Kitimat River estuary was one of the five largest on the BC coast and was ranked by Ducks Unlimited as one of BC’s most important estuaries.
“And to back that up, a technical report showed it was in the top three in total biological and social values,” he added.
Horwood explained that scientists defined an estuary as much more than just the mudflats and meadows. Therefore the Kitimat River estuary extended “many kilometres past the inner tidal waters and well into the Douglas Channel.”
Noting the estuary was 1,230 hectares, he pointed out that was three times the size of Stanley park in Vancouver.
“It is covered with Sitka spruce, western hemlock and deciduous trees, interspersed with lush meadows, sloughs, ponds and rivulets.”
April MacLeod said those meadows were created by “rich, organic soils packed with nutrients” and in Spring and Summer were a “wildflower and wildlife heaven”.
And like many locals, she liked to walk around the estuary to take advantage of the opportunities to photograph those flowers.
“The same nutrients that allow flowers to flourish also support a major outdoor activity, fishing,” she added.
Picking up on that, Walter Thorne told the panel anglers from BC, Alberta and around the world came here to fish “because Kitimat is really a fishing Mecca.”
Reinforcing that point, he noted celebrities had been coming here since the 1950s, citing prime minister John Diefenbaker, actor Kevin Costner and Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price as examples.
Elite fishing lodges throughout the channel targetted fish heading for the Kitimat and the sport fishing industry here brought in millions of dollars.
Horwood told the panel the estuary was a stopover during both the Spring and Fall bird migrations and that Trumpeter Swans that nest in Alaska overwinter here.
And the blue-listed Great Blue Heron, once rare in the Kitimat Valley, was now seen regularly during Christmas Bird Counts.
“One of the most mysterious birds in the world lives here…the marbled murrelet.”
After feeding in the channel waters during the day, he said they flew inland to the old-growth trees and located their nests in total darkness.
“No scientist, or anyone for that matter, knows how they do this.”
Thorne then turned to the “immense recreational values” of the estuary and Douglas Channel, noting sail boats, kayaks and powered boats plies those waters. And Alaska-bound yachts often diverted into the channel to enjoy the “solitude, pristine wilderness, private beaches that urbanites from all over Canada can only dream about.”
Horwood underlined that point saying eco-tourism here was “second to none. It is simply world class.”
Here you could see black, Kermodei and grizzly bears all in the same day, killer whales, seals and sea lions, he noted, adding, “Nothing, absolutely nothing beats the sight of a sounding humpback whale.”
Summing up for the group, Horwood said, “The Kitimat Valley Naturalists believe we need to strike a balance in our eco-system here and, as such, we believe the Northern gateway is not an acceptable risk.”
Of the 18 voices heard by the Joint Review Panel over the two-day session, only one supported the Northern Gateway project.
Peter King has been a Kitimat resident for 53 years during which time he has served as president of one of the former Eurocan pulp and paper mill union locals and as a trustee, then chairman, of the Coast Mountains school board.
King’s presentation looked at what he called social and global diversity as well as offering a few facts about the project itself.
He said one of the problems we faced was urbanization, the concentration of population in certain areas.
As a result, on the Lower Mainland people spent as much as four hours a day commuting. And that commute could cost $40 a day.
If you lived close to where you worked, the cost of your residence would be more and your job may not pay as well.
But if you lived in a small area where everyone lived within a 15-minute drive to work, your quality of life automatically improved because you had added three hours to your home/leisure time.
King then listed off the contrasts between big city living and small communities including crime, violence, quality of life for children and pollution both air and water.
Turning to the project, he pointed out the busiest waterway in the world was the Suez Canal which in 2010 handled just shy of 8,000 passages.
The canal was 24 metres deep and 205 metres wide.
The Douglas Channel was 1,400=metres wide at its narrowest part and 200 metres deep, “eight times deeper than the Suez Canal.”
On “global diversity”, King said he and his family were blessed: they were healthy, wealthy and happy.
“Do I as a person have the right to deny other people in the world the same dreams and blessing?” he asked.
Explaining, he said that if the project was turned down, people in other parts of the world would have to pay more for their energy while he would get to pay less. “Globally, is this fair?”
King closed by saying the encouraged the panel to approve the project “for economic, social and economic diversification, locally and worldwide.”