I grew up in the beautiful coastal town of Esperance, Western Australia; a town famous for its pristine beaches and magnificent coastline. The sign as you enter the town proudly states “Voted Australia’s Best Beaches” which is a pretty big claim to fame in a country known for its beaches.
Growing up, I learned from an early age that industry and natural beauty could exist side-by-side. Our industrial port was one of our town’s biggest employers, and was located right in the middle of Esperance Bay. Trucks and trains were continuously entering and leaving the port, delivering all manner of goods — from grain to wood-chips to iron-one and nickel. Each year the port grew bigger and so did its footprint on our town, but still, we managed to co-exist — beautiful nature and industrial development, side-by-side.
And then birds started falling out of the sky.
Not just a handful either. Thousands. A parliamentary inquiry eventually settled on the figure of 9,500. They were found dead in backyards and on the side of the road. Like the proverbial canary in a coalmine, the bird-deaths alerted the people of Esperance to a larger threat.
A necropsy performed on the birds found they had died of lead poisoning, as a result of the transport of lead carbonate into and out of the Esperance Port over a period of 23 months. One expert said the amount of lead found in some birds was “mining grade.”
Local children were found with elevated lead levels in their blood. Rainwater tanks, rooftops and playgrounds were found to be covered in fine layers of lead dust.
Cue a $25 million plus government clean up, and a stigma that decimated my town’s tourism industry and much of our local economy for years afterwards.
Despite witnessing firsthand this environmental disaster, I still believe that industry and environment can co-exist. In fact, I’ve seen it. I’ve visited mine-sites across Western Australia and witnessed how they implement worlds-best practices in environmental safety, community engagement and indigenous employment. I’ve seen State and Federal Government’s reap the rewards of working with the mining sector, and I’ve seen how responsible governments can deliver that money back to regional communities where it is most needed.
So I look at the Northern Gateway Project with keen interest.
I see all of its potential — the creation of thousands of jobs and an upskilling of the local workforce, a future training fund, and the ability for Canada to enter and compete in a multi-billion dollar global marketplace. Government revenue raised by the pipeline will deliver hospitals, schools, benefits to First Nation communities and more. Seeing how well the mining industry and government has worked together in Australia makes me optimistic that a project like this can succeed.
With 209 environmental, safety and economic conditions imposed on Enbridge, and the eyes of not just B.C. but all of Canada on them, surely they will get it right.
And then I remember the birds falling out of the sky.
What are your thoughts on the Northern Gateway Project? Do you see the benefits, or is this risk to the B.C. environment too great? I’d like to hear from you, so drop me a line at [email protected].
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