Northwestern B.C. First Nations set up camp to halt LNG project
Posted by Zig Zag
Company, province won’t respond to questions on possible investigation of alternate site
Members of northern B.C. First Nations have set up a camp on Lelu Island near Prince Rupert to prevent its use as a liquefied natural gas terminal.
Lax Kw’alaams member Joey Wesley said in a phone interview they made the move because Pacific NorthWest LNG was getting ready to drill on the island and in the ocean.
He said they also had learned the company was going to remove eelgrass from salmon-rearing habitat at Flora Bank off of Lelu Island in an effort to see if it could be transplanted elsewhere in the Skeena River estuary.
A planned bridge to the island, and its pilings, would traverse the edge of the bank.
As many as 20 people — including from the Gitxsan, Haida, Nisga’a and Lake Babine First Nations, as well as non-native people — were on the island Wednesday, said Wesley.
“We are exercising our aboriginal rights and title,” he said. “Our intention is to make our presence felt, and for however long it takes.”
The terminal and its pipeline has been viewed as a leading project in the Christy Clark-led Liberal government’s efforts to start a new natural gas export industry to Asia.
The $36-billion project — led by Malaysian state-controlled Petronas — has been approved by the province but is mired in a federal review that stalled because of concerns over the project’s effects on Flora Bank.
Wesley said the Lelu Island site is a traditional-use area of his father, hereditary chief Donny Wesley, or Sm’oogyet Yahaan.
In a YouTube video posted by the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, the hereditary chief said they were there to tell the people of Canada and British Columbia they were not giving up Flora Bank and want Lelu Island to remain intact. “If you take away the fish, then you take away the people. It’s as simple as that,” said the hereditary chief, referring to the importance of Flora Bank to salmon rearing.
The Lax Kw’alaams said in a message to its members on Monday they have been working on an alternate site.
Lax Kw’alaams mayor Garry Reece and other elected leaders have not responded to interview requests this week.
Pacific NorthWest LNG declined to respond to questions from The Vancouver Sun about the presence of First Nation protesters on the island, its planned drilling work or investigation of an alternate site.
However, in a written statement, spokesman Spencer Sproule said Thursday the company has presented a concept to area First Nations and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to transplant eelgrass from Porpoise Channel to partly offset habitat impacts from its proposed project. The channel is near Flora Bank.
Sproule said the company had engaged two world-leading restoration scientists on the proposal. “No on-the-ground work has or will take place unless the concept is approved by the Government of Canada.”
Earlier in the week, Pacific NorthWest LNG president Michael Culbert told Business in Vancouver they were exploring modifications to the site, not an alternate location.
The B.C. Ministry of Natural Gas Development also declined to respond to The Sun’s questions on whether they were involved with the investigation for an alternate site, saying only that discussions are confidential.
Michael Gurney, a spokesman for the Prince Rupert Port Authority, which administers land on Lelu Island, said drilling is meant to provide information for engineering of the project and has been sanctioned by the elected leadership of the Lax Kw’alaams and other First Nations in the area, including the Metlakatla.