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(Andrew Querner)
(Andrew Querner)

The Big Pipe: Enbridge's plan to connect the oilsands and China divides locals Add to ...

In a small way, these street names are fitting bookends to a debate that has been especially strident here, at the end of the line. Not far away, the Gateway route reaches its terminus at kilometre 1,172.19, on a treed rise overlooking the blue waters of Douglas Channel. The channel has been a lifeblood to this area. It has fed raw material to the smelter that has brought many jobs. It has also fed a cornucopia of seafood to the people who continue to live off the waters they call their dinner plate.

On Haisla Avenue, Ross strides to the water’s rocky edge. “This used to be lined with kelp beds and life,” he says. “There used to be clam beds. There used to be all sorts of wild salmon. We used to be able to come right here and fish for halibut.” Now, fishermen must travel, sometimes great distances. He looks across to Kitimat, where the smelter is clearly visible. “We know what the trade-off here was. In exchange for industry, we have traded off all our sea life. We’re just struggling to hang on to what we’ve got.”

The smelters and the paper mill haven’t fully delivered on promised jobs, either, he says. And though the Haisla have embraced a proposed natural gas export terminal on their land—and some in the village support Enbridge, which has already brought employment—Ross isn’t willing to take a chance on Gateway. “There’s tonnes of benefits. If we negotiated well, our community would probably be the wealthiest band on the whole northwest coast,” he says. “But you can’t buy off the Haisla. We don’t want it.”

It’s a sentiment that has echoed across the B.C. coast. In Hartley Bay, a settlement of 160 that is accessible only by air and water, the dangers of petroleum became excruciatingly clear one night in March, 2006, when the Queen of the North ferry hit a nearby island and sank. Seafood is such an important part of life in Hartley Bay that many families operate half a dozen chest freezers, which they fill with salmon, halibut, eulachon, seafood, crabs and clams. When the Queen sank, families couldn’t harvest some species for two years. Gateway would result in a tanker a day passing directly in front of Hartley Bay. Some would be supertankers, capable of carrying two million barrels—nearly 320 million litres—of crude. A spill would be devastating. Some locals have already decorated their laptops with foreboding “Enbridge Valdez” stickers.

“We’re rich here. We’ll never starve,” says Cam Hill, a teacher who grew up in the town. He shows off the culinary treasures in his own five freezers. “But if there is anything that screws up the water, we are screwed.”

Yet back in Kitimat, on Industrial Avenue, O’Driscoll says it’s hard to say no to a project that would deliver something so important to daily life. He has been in Canada for more than three decades, but still speaks with a decided Irish lilt. He has stayed in Kitimat because it provided work, but also because it is a place of stunning natural beauty.

That idea—that beauty should be left untarnished—is at the heart of the argument for most Gateway critics. For O’Driscoll, it’s the opposite. Without oil, he says, he wouldn’t be here to enjoy it. “You go anywhere and open up the fridge. Ninety-five per cent of the produce is shipped in, trucked in or flown in. If it weren’t for oil, we would starve here,” he says.

“Are all these people that are against this willing to hang up the car? Of course they’re not. I call that hypocritical and shameful. Eventually oil will be a thing of the past. But right now, we depend on it.”

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