UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Local knowledge and the environmental review process : lessons from the Alberta-Pacific EIA Review hearings Esmeralda, Cabral


Initiatives for public involvement in environmental impact assessments for large resource-use projects are now commonplace. Since the mid-seventies, governments have had strategies in place to encourage the public to be directly involved in resource management decisions. Various techniques are used to solicit public input; often public hearings are held to review the potential impacts of large projects. However, the purpose of involving the public in such a manner is not clear. Much information is contributed by the public during a public hearing, yet what is done with this information is largely an unknown. Therefore, the purpose of the work done for this thesis, was to contribute to the understanding of the role of local knowledge in the EIA process. The case selected for this study was the Alberta-Pacific (AlPac) EIA Review hearings, which were held to review the proposal for a bleached kraft pulp mill in northern Alberta. The written briefs of presentations made at the AlPac public hearings were examined in order to determine what kinds of local knowledge were contributed by local area farmers during the hearing process. Reports that were issued following the hearings were analyzed to assess whether any of the knowledge provided by the local farmers was reflected in these documents. Interviews were held with the proponent and members of the Review Board and Scientific Review Panel to gain a sense of the value of local knowledge to these individuals and to attempt to determine whether it played a significant role in the environmental review process for this development. A quantitative analysis of the material presented at the AlPac hearings showed that government and proponent submissions were substantial in both quantity and volume. Local farmers' presentations, while comparatively few, contributed a unique body of knowledge that was seen as valuable in the assessment of potential impacts of the proposed pulp mill. The local knowledge of the farmers was experiential, technical, and personal. In many instances, farmers provided information that challenged government and company experts. From the interviews, it became evident that the definition of 'local', and thus 'local knowledge', is vague. It clearly meant different things to different people, and depended on what issue was being discussed. The loose use of the word 'local' is a significant concern because it can lead to an undervaluing of those issues which are truly 'local'. Those who participated in the interviews stated that they valued local knowledge, but most expressed the need to verify local knowledge with more conventional, scientific knowledge. The personal impact of local knowledge on the different participants was highly variable. Some thought it was very important, others less so. Local knowledge was reflected in the Board's report and seemed to play a significant role in the assessment of potential impacts of the proposed mill. However, the circumstances surrounding this case, and the sequence of events following the public hearings suggest that local knowledge did not impact the final decision to approve the pulp mill. These findings have significant implications for planners and others who are involved in designing public involvement programs. If the role of local knowledge in the EI A process is to be validated and enhanced, the makeup of Review Boards needs to include individuals who are inclined to consider local knowledge as an important component of an EIA. This study indicates the importance of considering local knowledge in the design of environmental decision-making processes. Further studies are needed to better understand the concept of local knowledge, and how to classify it and integrate it into the EIA process.

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