Millions laid out in Tahltan deal

THE TAHLTAN Nation stands to gain more than $500 million in benefits over the lifetime of three run-of-river hydro electric projects being built on its traditional territory, Tahltan leaders estimate.

The money would flow in the form of cash bonuses, revenue sharing, jobs, contracts with Tahltan companies and scholarships from Calgary-based AltaGas which is spending close to $1 billion on the three projects.

Tahltan last year approved a benefits agreement tied to the largest project called Forrest Kerr which is to divert Iskut River water and are being asked next month to approve benefits agreements covering two smaller projects, Volcano Creek and McLymont Creek, which are in the same area.

Construction on the $700 million Forrest Kerr project has already started while both permitting and a company decision on proceeding with the two smaller projects are pending.

All three projects will feed power into BC Hydro’s Northwest Transmission Line via a 60-year sales deal AltaGas signed last year with the crown corporation.

Terms of the deal were not released and the provincial government excluded it from inspection by the BC Utilities Commission but the estimated worth is in the billions.

“Over the life of these projects our nation estimates more than $560 million in total financial benefits over the projected life of the projects,” reads information being circulated by the Tahltan Central Council in advance of the July McLymont Creek and Volcano Creek votes.

“That amount does not include additional benefits that will flow to the Tahltan through contracting, training and employment opportunities during construction and operation of the projects, nor does it include any potential sharing in savings during construction of the projects.”

Exact details of the pending agreements haven’t been released but provisions do call for up front cash bonuses, escalating revenue sharing, profit sharing, provisions for an ownership interest, contracts being directly awarded to the Tahltan Nation-owned Tahltan Nation Development Corporation, preferential treatment to contractors who include Tahltan in their work and scholarships.

AltaGas has further agreed to pay for training of Tahltan and will provide an estimated $4.8 million in scholarships.

As much as the impact benefits agreement solidifies a commercial relationship between the Tahltan and AltaGas, it also speaks to the title and ownership of the territory upon which the projects are being built.

“The [impact benefits agreement] does not change the content of whatever aboriginal rights and title that the Tahltan may have,” reads information being provided to Tahltan voters.

“However, the [agreement] clearly consents to any infringement of Tahltan’s aboriginal rights and title that is caused by the project. To that extent, the [agreement] has impact on Tahltan’s aboriginal rights and title.”

The Tahltan Central Council, through the agreement, has pledged not to interfere or obstruct or take legal action the work of AltaGas.

And it also has agreed to “use commercially reasonable best efforts to stop [central council] members from taking actions that would delay or stop the project.”

The agreements between AltaGas and the Tahltan are being regarded as the beginning of benefits that will flow to the Tahltan as a result of mining and other resource development on their traditional territory.

Members of the Tahltan Nation voted by a large majority earlier this year to approve of a benefits agreement with BC Hydro covering the passage of the Northwest Transmission Line through their traditional territory.

That agreement provided $6.1 million alone “in compensation for any infringements to Tahltan aboriginal title and rights from the 70 kilometres of the [transmission line] that is being built within our territory,” Tahltan Central Council chair Annita McPhee said in a message to Tahltan members.

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