Faith group takes on pipelines

Not quite ready to take a stand on proposed Ajax mine

Jason Hewlett / Kamloops Daily News
January 3, 2013 01:00 AM

Rev. LeAnn Blackert, in the sanctuary at Mount Paul United Church. She is hoping to help organize an information event on the subject of Ajax.

When it comes to pipelines, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Kamloops has a clear answer to the question of whether churches should get involved in political issues - yes.

However, when it comes to the proposed Ajax mine, the fellowship's answer is a little murkier.

Church spokeswoman Anne Neave said some of the fellowship's 50 members, herself included, have taken a personal stand against the mine but the congregation has not.

"So far we haven't got to (Ajax) but there are some of us who are individually working very hard on that," she said Thursday.

The fellowship, however, is united against the proposed Enbridge pipeline and the twinning of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, which runs through Kamloops, she said.

The fellowship recently passed a resolution opposing both projects and sent letters to spiritual groups provincewide plus the region's MLAs and MPs asking them to publicly stand with them, said Neave.

Although the congregation's members are a mix of backgrounds and faiths, they are united by a common belief system. She said the fellowship has a set of common principles that include "a respect for the interdependent web of all existence."

Environmental issues are a big part of that. In the past, the fellowship has supported environmental initiatives like the Great Green Transportation Tune-up and the Energy Conservation Challenge.

When it comes to the pipelines, the fellowship is concerned about the impact they will have on the environment, especially the B.C. coastline and Burrard Inlet.

"If the tankers that pick up this oil have an accident, it's a risk. It's a huge risk," she said. "The pipelines will vastly increase tanker traffic in the inlet."

The Union of B.C. Municipalities and city councils in Vancouver and Burnaby have publicly opposed the pipelines, said Neave. The fellowship would like other faith-based groups and concerned organizations to join them in expressing this view.

Locally, churches contacted by The Daily News were split on the issue. Rev. LeAnn Blackert of the Mount Paul United Church said taking a stand on social justice issues is an important part of the church's belief system.

"It's been a part of the ethos of the United Church going way back," she said.

At a general council meeting last year, the church passed a resolution opposing the Enbridge pipeline, she said. An official position has yet to be taken against Kinder Morgan.

Blackert hasn't seen a letter from the fellowship, but such an invitation would be something the United Church would consider, she said.

Neave said the letters were mailed during Christmas break and might not have reached everyone. She's heard back from a Unitarian church in the Lower Mainland.

Harry Bicknell, senior pastor with the Summit Drive Church, said Baptists believe in a separation of church and state, so the congregation wouldn't stake a position on the pipelines or mine.

However, if individuals wanted to join the effort, they wouldn't be discouraged, he said.

"You exercise your own freedom here," said Bicknell.

Neave said the fellowship's congregation meets every Sunday from September to June at the Valleyview Community Hall.

* * *

Meetings in the works on Ajax

A public forum providing insight into the environmental assessment process behind the Ajax mine is in the works for later this month.

Anne Neave, a member of the community advisory group working with the Environmental Assessment Office, said the event is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 17 at Thompson Rivers University at 7 p.m.

She said there will be some background information on Ajax and where the assessment process is in relation to the mine.

"The committee has been working really hard to look at all the responses from (mine operator) KGHM and evaluate those," said Neave.

Greg Leake, the Environmental Assessment Office's director of communication, said the forum will also explore the role community advisory groups play in the assessment process.

Neave said this is the first public forum of its kind since February 2012.

KGHM International hosts an open house on the mine Jan. 15 and 16 at the Kamloops Convention Centre ballroom from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Meanwhile, Mount Paul United Church Rev. LeAnn Blackert said representatives from the city's three United Churches meet in a couple of weeks. At that time she will suggest all three host an information night for residents on Ajax.

"I will bring that up and ask them if they are interested in doing that," said Blackert. "We could bring in both sides and allow people to come in and learn more (about the mine)."

She said many people in the congregation are opposed to the project, so it's a logical cause for the church to get behind.

"It's an important issue in the community," said Blackert.

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