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Northern Gateway oil pipeline hearings well ahead of schedule

FINAL oral presentations into Enbridge's planned Northern Gateway pipeline project are going faster than expected and could finish by early next week if not by tomorrow afternoon.

The hearings being held in Terrace by a National Energy Board review panel, which started June 17, were originally scheduled to last well into next week.

But some of those making appearances aren't taking up the full hour they've been allotted.

A federal government presentation yesterday, for instance, lasted just 30 minutes.

Review panel chair Sheila Leggett told the hearings yesterday afternoon the proceedings, in which 35 presentations are to be heard, were already one week ahead of schedule.

There have also been unexpected deaths in the families of either the review panel or its staff members, leading to a move to conclude tomorrow's session before the afternoon.

"The reason for the Friday schedule change is due to three unexpected deaths for the panel and members of the panel staff," said Kristen Higgins from the National Energy Board in an email late yesterday.

But Higgins said the panel is by no means rushing anything through and is going late into the day to ensure everyone is heard.

And she said the panel is prepared to resume next Monday if necessary.

One scheduled presenter, Dennis Horwood of the Kitimat Valley Naturalists, said yesterday he was on call in case he and a colleague were requested to appear earlier than originally scheduled.

The quick pace of the hearings also meant one group showed up yesterday afternoon unexpectedly late.

Twenty or so members of the Gitxaala Nation left their village on Dolphin Island south of Prince Rupert at 7 a.m. yesterday and arrived at 1 p.m., thinking they had made it on time for their lawyer's presentation, not knowing that the quickly unfolding hearings were ahead of schedule.

Gitxaala Nation lawyer Rosanne Kyle was already at the hearings and was able to give her presentation.

Former Gitxaala chief councillor Elmer Moody said the trip cost $7,000 dollars, another expense to the money already put out for legal fees and other costs associated with challenging the Enbridge Northern Gateway project.

"They could have made a better effort to contact us," Moody said of having missed the presentation.

The Gitxaala Nation members were, however, recognized in the hearing room.

"The change in time from 1 p.m. to 11 a.m. was the timing estimated by the Gitxaala, not a time slot given by the panel," said the National Energy Board's Higgins.

The Terrace hearings mark the end of nearly 18 months of examination by the federal panel of Enbridge's plan to ship Alberta oil by pipeline to a marine export terminal at Kitimat.

Once hearings conclude here, the panel will then write up its final report for presentation to the federal cabinet late this year.

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