Metro/Kate Webb Michelle BarlondSmith travelled to Vancouver from Michigan to share her experiences of the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill with the panel evaluating the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

Freelance photographer Michelle BarlondSmith was living with her husband in a trailer park along the Kalamazoo River in July, 2010 when an Enbridge pipeline burst, leaking 3.3 million litres of diluted bitumen into the water.

“My home sat less than 200 feet from the oil, and I was told I would be bought out and taken care of,” she testified in front of the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel in Vancouver on Wednesday.

“I walked away from my home last year, and I testified before U.S. Congress. I was told I would be made whole. Trust me when I say, you will never be made whole.”

BarlondSmith, who described herself not as an environmentalist but as an “accidental activist”, said she travelled all the way from Michigan to speak at the hearings because she believes Canadians need to know the human costs of an oil spill.

“Here is what I’ve learned: A spill will hurt your business base. Companies will relocate or close. Your tax base will disappear. Your communities will lose tourism and future businesses, as companies don’t want to locate there,” she said.

“…You’ll have to pay more into the medical care of your citizens. Your system is different than ours, but you’re going to need to bring in toxicologists and environmental health experts. You’re going to have to bring in people to deal with the psychological stress.”

BarlondSmith said at last count Enbridge had approximately 100 lawsuits pending in relation to the Michigan spill, not including a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 7,000 people who allege they were affected. An Enbridge spokesman did not respond to Metro’s request for comment by deadline.

The hearings in Vancouver are set to wrap up Friday and then move on to Prince Rupert. They are closed to the public, but a public viewing area with a live feed is set up at the Renaissance Vancouver Harbourside Hotel at 1133 West Hastings St.

Three panelists affected by oil spills in Michigan, Alberta and B.C., including Michelle BarlondSmith, are set to speak at an event at the Heritage Hall at 3102 Main St. in Vancouver at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

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