Enbridge battle embroils B.C.'s Super Natural brand

Ecotourism entrepreneurs raise concerns over tanker traffic and risk of spills, as Northern Gateway review panel returns to Vancouver this week

King Pacific Lodge: owner Michael Uehara fears that the sight of tankers on the horizon will spoil the enjoyment of international visitors who stay at his high-end lodge

Battle lines are being drawn in a looming fight between B.C.'s Super Natural tourism industry and supporters of increased oil tanker traffic along the West Coast.

Fearing that a rise in tanker traffic could tarnish B.C.'s Super Natural brand and its desirability as a tourist destination, tourism entrepreneurs have joined the growing opposition to Enbridge Inc.'s (TSX:ENB) proposed $6 billion Northern Gateway Project.

"The pipeline and increased tanker traffic would absolutely affect our business," King Pacific Lodge owner Michael Uehara told Business in Vancouver.

"We're on what they call the alternate weather route for the tankers, and if the tankers take that route, they will pass within a mile of the lodge."

Randy Burke, managing director of Bluewater Adventures Ltd. and a director of the Gwaii Haanas Tour Operators Association and the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of B.C., fears sector-wide collapse.

"Coastal ecotourism cannot coexist with Northern Gateway," he said.

"When the risks of this proposal can ruin coastal tourism for decades, it does not make sense."

Uehara and Burke joined other tourism industry business owners earlier this month by addressing the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel, which returns to Vancouver January 30 for another three nights of hearings.

Transcripts of presentations to the review panel reveal near unanimous opposition to the project among presenters.

Business in Vancouver called Enbridge and several chambers of commerce in northern B.C. seeking the name of a tourism industry entrepreneur who supports Enbridge's proposal, but none could be found by press time.

Enbridge says that its project, which would carry Alberta oilsands bitumen to B.C.'s coast for shipment to Asian markets, will generate an estimated $1.2 billion in tax revenue for B.C. along with 4,100 person-years of direct on-site employment and 35,000 person-years of total employment, including indirect employment, in the province.

University of British Columbia researchers funded by WWF Canada estimated in December that a major tanker accident and oil spill could cost up to $9.6 billion.

Tourism industry public relations company owners claim to have their fingers on the pulse of the sector and have lambasted the project in their presentations to the review panel.

"What's at stake? Our province's Super Natural brand and the $14 billion a year it generates for communities," Good Relations owner Bill Eisenhauer told the review panel in January.

"You only have to look to the BP spill down on the U.S. Gulf Coast to see what effect a major spill will have on tourism here."

Spectacular Ink owner Jayne Lloyd-Jones similarly told the review panel earlier this month that the risk to tourism far outweighs any economic benefit.

"I have a vested interest in tourism," Lloyd-Jones told the panel. "At risk [if the pipeline proposal goes ahead] are the environment, the people of British Columbia, especially the First Nations, and the tourism operators."

Owners of Vancouver's larger tourist destinations have been largely quiet on the issue.

Grouse Mountain owner Stuart McLaughlin told BIV that he has faith that the review panel will evaluate the pros and cons of the project and then act in the national interest.

"I trust that the tourism impacts will be taken into account," McLaughlin said. "The federal government has initiated its tourism strategy that clearly identifies the value of this important sector." •

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