TWO local First Nations with interests in the area of a planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant on Lelu Island near Port Edward say opponents of the Pacific NorthWest LNG project who worry about its effects on Skeena River salmon should wait until the most recent scientific studies are done.
And the Kitselas First Nation and Kitsumkalum First Nation say they’re disappointed more than 70 individuals and groups who co-signed a letter written by a key project opponent and released this week didn’t consult with them first.
The Kitselas and the Kitsumkalum along with the coastal Metlakatla and Gitxaala first nations have formed their own authority which is studying the project separately from a federal review into what is considered the front runner of nearly 20 planned projects to export LNG to Asian customers.
In a statement in response to the project opposition letter, the Tsimshian Environmental Stewardship Authority (TESA) says while it is “equally concerned about the potential impacts of the Pacific NorthWest LNG project on the Skeena River fishery,” it expresses faith in the reviews currently underway.
“We ensured the environmental process was put on hold in order to better understand and research the impacts on Flora Bank,” says the stewardship authority statement of a site near Lelu Island within the Skeena River estuary that’s considered environmentally sensitive.
“Additional scientific work is near completion and TESA is conducting its own independent review of this work. When we have all the scientific evidence and the answers to our questions, only then will we decide,” the statement added.
The two letters come at a time when members and supporters of the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation, led by hereditary chief Donnie Wesley who wrote the opposition letter, have set up a camp on Lelu Island, claiming title.
The Lax Kw’alaams First Nation is not a member of the Tsimshian stewardship authority and says the location of the Pacific NorthWest LNG project is too risky given the importance of the Skeena River fishery.
Kitselas Chief Councillor Joe Bevan, whose first nation along with the Metlakatla have already signed impact benefits agreements with Pacific NorthWest LNG, said he respects hereditary claim to Lelu Island but that every first nation deals with title differently.
“There are five first nations who have exercised their aboriginal rights in and around the mouth of the Skeena River since time immemorial and we will continue to do that to this day,” said Bevan.
“If he’s claim that it’s his, well that’s for the courts to determine,” said Bevan of Wesley.
He added that Wesley has yet to contact him.
Bevan says he wishes the protesting group had hired its own scientists to do a study of Flora Bank.
“You almost have to be a hydrologist to understand exactly how this works, the ebbs and flows, and what have you. It’s really a technical report,” said Bevan.
“As for the other 70 groups that are claiming this is going to destroy the habitat, this is going to destroy the fishery, I just say hey, I think you are a bit premature in your conclusions. I think you should wait for the full outcome,” he said.
Pacific NorthWest LNG has also refuted claims from project opponents that ongoing environmental review work is affecting eelgrass on Flora Bank.
“Eelgrass was dislodged due to a storm event, not due to any type of borehole sampling activity,” said Pacific NorthWest LNG’s Spencer Sproule by email.
“Furthermore, no drilling has or will take place on Flora Bank. The primary reason being: no marine infrastructure will be placed on Flora Bank at all – therefore no soil investigation would be required to determine geological characteristics for the suitability to place bridge structures.”
Below is the statement from the Tsimshian Environmental Stewardship Authority signed by the chief councillors of its four member first nations:
In Prince Rupert, there are five Tsimshian Nations who assert their aboriginal rights and title over the area. It is those Tsimshian Nations who the Crown and the proponent have the obligation to consult and resolve any adverse environmental and economic impacts of any major developments.
It is the Tsimshian Nations that will determine what is in our best interest, while respecting the interests of our neighbours. We are equally concerned about the potential impacts of the Pacific Northwest LNG project on the Skeena River fishery.
The Tsimshian Environmental Stewardship Authority (TESA) is protecting Tsimshian interests in the federal environmental process. We ensured the environmental process was put on hold in order to better understand and research the impacts on Flora Bank.
Additional scientific work is near completion and TESA is conducting its own independent review of this work. When we have all the evidence and the answers to our questions, only then will we decide. We are perplexed that those opposing the project are coming to conclusions before key evidence is heard and finalized.
We expect respectful consultation and engagement, not media pressure tactics. We are very disappointed the outside interests that have signed a joint letter opposing the project have not consulted with our nations nor waited for all the evidence.
The Wesley letter can be read at http://media.wix.com/ugd/6d9c86_5e67cf40765d428eb985c64dc76a024d.pdf