By John Honderich, Chair of the Board, The Toronto Star
BELLA BELLA, B.C.—Sometimes in life you have to witness a place firsthand to really get it.
See it. Experience it. Sense it.
I had watched a video of the channels and byways in western British Columbia that supertankers will ply if the controversial Northern Gateway Pipeline is approved. But I decided I wanted to see them up close, then form my own opinion.
So I paid to join a five-day sailing trip through the Great Bear Rainforest region organized by the World Wildlife Federation. To say this region showcases some of the most spectacular scenery that Canada has to offer barely captures it. But more on this later.
I should make it clear, right off the top, that I understand fully Alberta’s desire to sell its oil abroad. It’s the “how” and “where” we must get right.
My journey turned out to be one of both discovery and surprise, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
We began at Kitimat, the endpoint of the proposed bitumen pipeline.
Within minutes of our Gitga’at guide Marven Robinson showing us the likely marine terminal site, three orcas splashed by. Then a pod of seven humpbacks. The oh-so-familiar juxtaposition of trade pitted against the environment was set early, a theme that would haunt throughout.
Certainly the fierce opposition of the Coastal First Nations to the project is well known. For Marven, decked out in his “Stop the Tankers” T-shirt, the feeling is visceral. “This just cannot happen,” he growls.
The first surprise was that the exact tanker route from Kitimat to the ocean is far from direct or straight. Disabuse yourself of any notion there is a wide-open, direct channel to the sea. Indeed, the route twists and turns, offering different options.
It starts at the top of the Douglas Channel, a 70-kilometre fjord with forested mountains plunging to the water on each side. It is about two to three kilometres wide.
Just across from Marven’s village of Hartley Bay, the channel meets Gil Island, 27 kilometres of cliffs and trees that sits smack in the middle of the route. A tanker could pass on either side, but the channel narrows by half. One suddenly remembers that supertankers need at least 500 metres to alter course….
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