When public open houses were being held in the Peace Region during the public comment period on draft guidelines for the environmental assessment, it was argued that they should be held province-wide, as the project affects all B.C. residents. Joe Foy, National Campaign Director, maintains that should be the case for the public hearings as well.
‘The person at Boston Bar who is concerned about their power rates, the person in Chilliwack who feels strongly that 6,000 hectares of farmland shouldn’t be drowned, they’re going to be caught by surprise by this,” he says. “They’re not going to be able to participate.”
The first public hearing session is scheduled for December 9 in FortSt. John, with the schedule running through January 2014 in various locations around the B.C. and Alberta Peace. Anyone wishing to participate must file a written submission two weeks ahead of time, with the deadline quickly approaching on November 25.
Foy is calling that practice “shameful”, as he feels anyone other than large invested groups won’t be able to properly comment before the hearings commence.
“The input on these environmental assessments are publicly posted, and citizens who want to weigh in can go onto their website and see what’s being said. They may want to weigh in as a result of that,” he argues. “And on this one – one of the most important and far-reaching ones we’ve faced – they can’t. It’s been stolen from them, and that’s wrong.”
Foy points to the environmental assessment of the New Prosperity Mine as a good example, as written submissions were accepted up until a week before the end of hearings.
The timing of the hearings taking place over the winter holiday is also criticized, but The Vancouver Sun quotes panel spokesperson Lucille Jamault as explaining that once the joint review panel believes it has sufficient information from the environmental impact statement, it must move immediately to public hearings. She also adds that each panel sets its own procedures and having written submissions in advance means they can review the information before the hearings.