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Whistler and the pipeline debate

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In the last few months the value of the resort of Whistler to the province of B.C. has been quantified in a crystal-clear manner.

Whistler generates $1.1 million a day in tax revenue; $1.3 billion per year in GDP and annual tax revenues of over $405 million. And 22.5 per cent of the entire annual tourism export revenue of British Columbia comes from Whistler.

More than 2.5 million annual resort visitors come here to see what spectacular B.C. is all about and enjoy the amenities.

Why bring this up again now?

It is context for a position Whistler's council took April 3 of this year when it passed a motion declaring its opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline — the same pipeline that has just received the nod from the National Energy Board's review panel.

"Be it moved that the RMOW oppose the building of the Enbridge pipeline, oppose the Federal Government relaxing the regulations of rivers and fisheries to allow the building of the pipeline and other industrial projects, and in addition oppose the shipping of oil along the BC Coast that would result from this pipeline construction," states the RMOW motion.

"The RMOW also expresses its solidarity and supports the position of other communities in their position to stand against the building of this project and its impacts."

It passed unanimously.

Not long after the Whistler Chamber of Commerce also came out publicly opposing the pipeline.

"Whistler is a community dependent on tourism, its reputation as a tourist destination is dependent on British Columbia's pristine environment, that there is significant threat from the building and operation of the Northern Gateway pipeline and the resultant tanker traffic on our B.C. Coast and that the approval of this project will put Whistler's tourism industry at significant risk," it stated in a release.

Perhaps it is time for Whistler to make sure that its position is clear to provincial leaders on the pipeline. Premier Christy Clark is so far sticking to her five conditions for the construction of the pipeline, but with the review panel giving the project a thumbs up this week, even with its 209 conditions, it looks closer to becoming reality than ever.

The proposed $7.9-billion pipeline, which would bring bitumen from Alberta west to B.C.'s coast for shipment overseas, has become a lightning rod of controversy. The debate between environmental and economic concerns has raged for years, and billions of dollars are involved.

It was interesting to note that media in the east heartily welcomed the news, while media on the west coast lamented the review panel's findings.

Said the Calgary Herald: " There's no denying that endorsement of Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline by the independent federal review panel is great news, confirming as it does that the project — now estimated to cost $7.9 billion — is of clear economic value to Canada."

That could be debated.

A Tyee.ca article earlier this year questioned why we are rushing to export our oil to China, as half the country remains reliant on declining and volatile reserves from the North Sea and the Middle East. If we had a national energy plan perhaps it might suggest that we should be preparing for our own energy independence?

Does Whistler — as a land-locked resort — have a right to be concerned about the environmental impacts?

After all the review panel found that, "a large spill is unlikely," and, "We further found that a large spill would initially have significant adverse environmental effects on ecosystems and we accepted the scientific evidence that indicates that the environment would ultimately recover and return to a functioning ecosystem similar to that existing prior to the spill."

We have also learned in the months of debate over the pipeline plan that Enbridge, the pipelines proponent, has had 800 pipelines spills since 1999.

An area of serious concern is Hunter Creek (Jsource.ca, Robin Rowland). It is not a famous B.C. resort — in fact it is almost impossible to get to. It is an area that even Enbridge itself has documented as a problem. Over and over again it has been subjected to avalanches and debris flash floods — yet this steep slope will have the pipeline built down its surface.

The real issue here is that the panel has given its predictable findings — did anyone really think we were going to hear anything different — without science existing to deal with a major oil spill along most of the route of this pipeline, or in the Douglas Channel in heavy seas.

No doubt the federal government will give the project its blessing within the 180-day response period.

The question now for Whistler, for British Columbians, is how do we ensure we have the energy we need without sacrificing the very roots of our existence — the land we live on and live off.

Remember the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010?

One headline from that always sticks in my mind. It was from the Daily Telegraph out of the U.K and it read: "BP oil spill: Mississippi governor says press coverage is more damaging than slick."

With millions of tourists using the media to plan their trip to Whistler and B.C. we should remember that a spill will devastate the environment and the news of the spill could devastate our tourism economy.

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