National Energy Board defends distance between Enbridge hearing and public viewing rooms
The chairs sit neatly arranged seven across and seven deep on two sides of Salon 1 at the Westin Bayshore hotel.
There’s probably another 98 more seats inside the adjoining hall that was also rented as a public viewing room in connection with the hearing of oral statements in Vancouver on Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.
However, for what is considered one of the hottest issues in B.C., not that many warm bodies are filling this public viewing room.
With two police officers standing by outside the hall, and two staff members of the National Energy Board and an IT technician inside, the four members of the public watching the hearings on a screen at around 1:20 p.m. Wednesday (January 16) were outnumbered.
The local hearings that started Monday (January 14) are being held at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre hotel on Burrard Street until Friday (January 18). It’s about six minutes to seven minutes by car away from the Westin on Bayshore Drive.
Only presenters—three at a time—and one guest each are allowed to enter the hearing room at the Wall Centre.
According to an NEB staff member at the Westin, the number of people that has sat in the viewing room at any one time since Monday peaked at around 23.
Retired IBM systems manager Gertrude Wolf was one of the people who used the Westin viewing room, and she felt disappointed that not a lot of people were present.
But Wolf also said that the NEB is partly to blame because of its move to have separated venues for Vancouver, which was the same arrangement done for previous hearings in Victoria.
“The NEB made the right decision,” Wolf told the Straight sarcastically.
She has a friend who was scheduled to deliver an oral statement to the Joint Review Panel on Wednesday afternoon, and Wolf had wanted to be at the hearing site at the Wall Centre.
“It should have been the same place where the hearings are taking place,” she said. “More people would have gone I think.”
NEB spokesperson Kristen Higgins disagrees with Wolf’s assertion that the separated venues are designed to drive down public attendance.
“The panel wanted to take a proactive approach for the hearings in Victoria and Vancouver, and the focus of these hearings really is to hear from the oral statement presenters and make sure that the information that oral statement presenters want to share with the panel can be heard in a respectful, efficient, and orderly manner,” Higgins told the Straight in a media room at the Wall Centre.
“That information needs to go into the record and that’s the information that the panel can use when they make their recommendation report,” Higgins also said.