04/03/2012 07:45 EDT | Updated 06/03/2012 05:12 EDT

Northern Gateway pipeline hearings begin in Bella Bella, B.C., 1.5-days late

BELLA BELLA, B.C. - The Heiltsuk First Nation on B.C.'s central coast says the joint review panel considering the Northern Gateway pipeline project will begin hearings in Bella Bella at 1 p.m. this afternoon.

But Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett says more than a full day has been cut from the planned four days of hearings and the panel has not proposed a clear plan to hear testimony from those slated to speak on Monday or this morning.

She says the missed speakers include more than half a dozen hereditary chiefs, elders and high-ranking women, and they have a right to be heard.

A three member, federally appointed panel has been hearing public submissions about the Enbridge (TSX:ENB) proposal to pipe Alberta crude across B.C. for shipment overseas, but abruptly cancelled Monday's session after arriving in Bella Bella, about 300 kilometres south of Prince Rupert, on Sunday.

The Heiltsuk First Nation says the hearings were put on hold after panel members raised safety concerns, but a National Energy Board spokeswoman, speaking on behalf of the panel, said concerns about logistics in Bella Bella, not security, forced the sudden change.

The panel has been met with protests since the hearings started in January in Kitimat, but no dates were cancelled until Monday.