Enbridge pipeline divides First Nations in Burns Lake area

Husband of former B.C. NDP leader Carole James supported Enbridge application for exploration permits

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      The husband of former B.C. NDP leader Carole James endorsed exploration work for the Northern Gateway oil pipeline that her party opposes.

      Albert Gerow, chief of the Burns Lake band, supported the application by Enbridge Inc. to undertake drilling and surveys in two areas along the route of the proposed pipeline.

      The First Nations leader backed the Calgary company’s request for temporary-use permits in a letter dated May 24, 2013, to the provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations.

      “In the letter you stated your support for the exploration permits for the Endako River Crossing and Burns Lake Pump Station areas,” the ministry replied in a letter dated August 14, 2013, from Brian Herbert, senior analyst with First Nations relations.

      Gerow didn’t respond to Georgia Straight requests for an interview.

      The Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel will submit its report about the proposed pipeline to the federal government on December 31, 2013. It will also release the document to the public on the same day.

      On April 20, 2012, the B.C. NDP wrote the review panel to express the party’s formal opposition to Northern Gateway, a 1,177-kilometre twin pipeline from Alberta to the port of Kitimat in B.C.

      The party reiterated its disapproval in its May 14, 2013, election platform, the preparation of which was cochaired by Victoria–Beacon Hill MLA James, Gerow’s part-Métis wife.

      “It puts our environment and the economy in Northern B.C. at risk,” the B.C. NDP platform declares. “It’s simply not in B.C.’s interests.”

      Ronald Charlie is one of three members of the Burns Lake band council. He claims to have learned about Gerow’s endorsement of exploration work for the Northern Gateway pipeline when the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations gave him a copy of its response to the chief’s letter.

      Charlie and other band members have been demanding transparency in decisions made by the council on behalf of the community, including those relating to the proposed Enbridge pipeline.

      Gerow and two others have sued Charlie and a number of other band members for defamation.

      “We, as a community, want to come to a collective decision when it comes to entering into any agreement,” Charlie told the Straight in a phone interview.

      The 27-year-old band councillor also finds it “odd” that Gerow supported work related to the proposed pipeline, given that his wife’s political party is against the project.

      “You would think Albert [Gerow] would come out and say the same,” Charlie said.

      Former band councillor Ryan Tibbetts is one of those sued by Gerow. According to Tibbetts, at least 90 percent of members living on-reserve reject the pipeline.

      “It’s not exactly, or entirely, safe,” Tibbetts told the Straight in a phone interview.

      Former NDP leader Carole James cochaired her party’s platform committee, which came out against the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

      Gerow is also the president and chair of the Burns Lake Native Development Corporation, an entity that represents six First Nations in northern B.C.

      At least two of these groups—the Wet’suwet’en and Lake Babine nations—are opposed to the Enbridge pipeline, which is proposed to transport 525,000 barrels of oil per day across many Native territories.

      “It will be less than 200 feet from my house,” Lake Babine chief Wilf Adam told the Straight in a phone interview.

      When asked how relations among Native groups in the Burns Lake area will be affected if one or some agree with the pipeline proposal, Adam responded: “Whatever they do within their nation, it’s up to them.”

      Richard Peters is the chief of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation, a member of the Gerow-led Burns Lake Native Development Corporation.

      According to Peters, his community will remain neutral regarding the project until the Joint Review Panel releases its report.

      “After that decision is handed down, then we’ll make our commitment,” Peters told the Straight in a phone interview.

      In June 2012, Enbridge announced that almost 60 percent of aboriginal groups along the path of the pipeline had agreed to become part owners of the pipeline.

      Enbridge didn’t provide a spokesperson for an interview with the Straight. It offered a prepared statement indicating that Northern Gateway has signed “equity participation agreements with 26 First Nations and Metis communities” in B.C. and Alberta.

      A community and land-use report prepared by a consortium of consultants for the Burns Lake band also notes that the band council entered into an agreement with Enbridge for exploratory work.

      Prepared in May this year and updated in November, the report states that although band members participated in a survey about whether or not they support the project, the poll results have not been released.

      “Some Band members also believe Enbridge has proposed other partnerships including developing temporary housing for pipeline workers,” the document also states. “The Enbridge proposals have been controversial because of potential environmental impacts and the fact that other local First Nations have opposed this project.”

      Responding to an inquiry by the Straight about the application by Enbridge for exploration permits that was supported by Gerow, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations noted that a permit has been issued for the Burns Lake pumping-station area. The other, for the Endako River crossing, is still being processed.



      G cote

      Dec 12, 2013 at 6:50am

      At least 1 council member can see the value of this oppurtunity


      Dec 12, 2013 at 11:11am

      It's a reminder that those of us who can afford to be against Enbridge, from an employment perspective, are not evenly distributed across this province.

      I'm not for Enbridge but I can't find it in me to be angry with people who, for one reason or another, go to work for them. It's a legal business at a good wage that doesn't necessarily require three degrees. We don't have too many of those, especially in small towns.

      keith cummings

      Dec 12, 2013 at 11:46am

      take heed Burns Lake folks...here's a letter from a designer of the NG pipeline (from the edmonton journal) stating the design could be safer, but implied it was rejected because of extra costs of construction:

      In 2005 I was one of the designers of the Enbridge pipeline that was to collect and ship oil to and from Kitimat. We were concerned about the many problems because of the sharp drop in elevation.

      We did what we could to reduce the chances of failure, but I was never satisfied. There were too many things that could go wrong before the oil was delivered to tankers.

      Risks remain after the tankers are loaded. The entrance from the ocean is quite small for large tankers.

      Kitimat is lovely, with at least two rivers flowing into it. It would be a pity if we dumped oil there.

      My preference would be to deliver the oil to ships on the ocean. The pipeline would be longer and more expensive, but safer.

      Bill Middagh, professional engineer, Edmonton

      Susanne Browne

      Dec 12, 2013 at 3:54pm

      You have your facts incorrect - He is not the president Burns Lake Native Development and you may want to double check the rest of your facts -I think there may be other inaccuracy - 'Gerow is also the president and chair of the Burns Lake Native Development Corporation, an entity that represents six First Nations in northern B.C.'

      Beverly Abraham

      Dec 12, 2013 at 8:56pm

      How could you Albert Gerow,,and you Carol James,,you both probably planned this and you albert gerow knew your were not gonna be chief any more that is why u signed up ,,and carol james or what ever your name is,,you of all people should have known,,,first nations voted you in and this is your return to us as first nation of burns lake and Lake babine nation,,i knew it from the beginning that they were right about albert gerow,,my sister chadda was right all about you,,you are crazy to do this ,,i am an angry citizen,,how do you all feel about this

      Martin Dunphy

      Dec 12, 2013 at 9:42pm

      Susanne Browne:

      According to the BLNDC website, Al Gerow is the chair and president.
      Please look for yourself: http://www.blndc.ca/html/directors.html
      If the site is in error, let us know.
      In light of recent developments, though, the point may be moot.