Sixty-two years ago, when Jim Traynor was 15, he was hired as a surveyor's summer helper at a remote mountain mine south of Smithers.
"On weekends, I would climb high through talus and scree slopes listening to the shrill warning whistles of marmots," he remembers. "Finally reaching ridge top, I saw spread before me as far the eye could see a world that took my breath away white ribbons of water falling from emerald lakes into lush green valleys, below red chevrons of rock, topped by blue-grey stone, under white sails of glaciers and permanent snow. So vast. So striking. So magnificent."
The landscape he looked at then is today the proposed route of the Northern Gateway pipeline.
He says that long-ago experience set the course for his life as an outdoorsman. He's a former member of the Outdoor Recreation Council of BC and the executive of the Orienteering Association of BC. He's a strong advocate for sustainability and is currently transforming an old house on Victoria Street into an energy-efficient modern home. He's also concerned about the changes he sees occurring in the natural world.
Given his background and concerns, Traynor asked to appear before the National Energy Board's review panel on the Northern Gateway project.
He made his presentation Jan. 16 in Vancouver, as one of more than 4,000 people who signed up to speak before the panel.
Traynor is encouraged by that number, noting that the 4,000 people who registered to speak on the pipeline far exceeds the "prior high, which was something like the 585 requests to appear before the panel on the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. " He said he also found the presentations of other participants in the hearings "inspiring.
"There were people from all walks of life, from all over BC," he said, adding, "I think it's an example of the activation of grassroots democracy."
He told the News he thought the pipeline was a fait accompli last summer, but says he feels "more hopeful now. I'm definitely inspired."
Traynor said a recent incident near Lillooet helped prompt his decision to request the opportunity to make his 10-minute submission to the review panel.
He recalled how, in May 2011, he headed into the Stein Valley park alpine to back country ski.
"Halfway up the active logging road, I was stopped by a roof-top high wall of ice and embedded rock an avalanche not in a recognized avalanche zone," he said in his written submission. "Avalanches and major mud slides are being observed in many places not previously identified for slide events- Lillooet Lake, for example, and Johnston's Landing where the town had to be evacuated last summer. What is going on here?"
Noting that climate scientists estimate there will be increases of up to 50 per cent above historical averages for precipitation in coastal mountain areas of BC, he warned of increasing avalanche dangers along the pipeline route .
"Also, many glaciers in BC are observed to be in retreat, probably from warming temperatures. The observed result is an increasingly very high volume of mountain water load moving down slopes, increasing slides into areas that are not historically designated as avalanche zones," said Traynor. "With the complexity of climate change, there appears to be no way at present to accurately predict where the rogue avalanches and mud slides will occur."
Stating there are 22,000 abandoned contaminated industrial sites in Canada, he also asked the panel who would pay for the cleanup and multi-generational remediation "when Enbridge declares bankruptcy acting in the best financial interests of its shareholders? Where is there any requirement for performance bonding?"
Traynor added, "It is not acceptable to claim to be able to answer these questions at a later stage; it would be irresponsible to the taxpayers of Canada, to the residents of BC and it would be irresponsible to Enbridge who will spend more money on a prohibitively risky concept if approval in principle is granted."
He told the News he spent a lot of time doing research for his submission, but found the rules governing the presentations to be restrictive.
Under the parameters established by the federal government, the joint review panel has "very, very restrictive terms of reference." He says the three-member panel "is not there to hear any evidence that isn't directly tied to the pipeline through BC."
He said that meant no presentations on the effect of the oil sands in Alberta or about possible navigation problems along the coast.
However, many presenters ignored those rules and commented anyway on those issues.
"This is BC, after all," he says, with a shrug and smile of explanation.