Massive land deal sought for B.C.’s north coast

Nisga'a Lisims Government wants to buy 22,000 hectares of Crown land

  • May. 24, 2016 6:00 a.m.

The Nisga’a Lisims Government is working on a real estate deal with the provincial government which would see it purchase approximately 22,000 hectares of provincial crown land on the north coast.

Once concluded, the deal would enlarge the Nisga’a treaty land base by approximately 10 per cent and, crucially, give the Nisga’a the ability to attract large-scale industrial development, particularly floating or on-land liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants.

The area in question is the Nasoga Gulf, outside of the Nisga’a treaty lands but within the area where, through provisions of the 2000 Nisga’a Final Agreement, the Nisga’a have an influence on how it might be used.

The Nisga’a already own a 200 hectare plot within the area as well as at three other locations on the north coast and have been actively marketing each as potential LNG locations for the past several years.

The Nisga’a are using promotional material that highlights ease of access to the Pacific Ocean and closeness to Terrace, which gives access to a variety of transportation and services. They also highlight the certainty any industrial developer would have in dealing with the Nisga’a Nation because it would be the sole owner of the land base.

“The Nisga’a Treaty provides the Nisga’a Nation with constitutionally-protected rights and legislative jurisdiction that would facilitate the construction and operation of an LNG facility on lands owned by the Nisga’a Nation,” reads the promotional material.

That ability of a company to have the assurance of dealing with one land owner would solve what has been a stumbling block for industrial development in B.C. for decades – overlapping jurisdiction claims by multiple First Nations.

The Nasoga Gulf area is a critical location for northwestern B.C. industrial development because two planned natural gas pipelines would run there from northeastern B.C.

Both would then turn south underwater to resurface at two planned LNG plants near Prince Rupert.

But by having a large land base in the Nasoga Gulf area, the Nisga’a stress the geographical advantage of having a LNG plant in the Nasoga Gulf area.

That’s because pipelines would be shorter and subsequently less expensive to build when compared to having them run south to the Prince Rupert area, Nisga’a promotional material states.

As an inducement to encourage LNG development, the Nisga’a have already reached an agreement with one of the Prince Rupert-bound pipeline builders, Prince Rupert Gas Transmission, owned by TransCanada.

Its pipeline would feed the Pacific NorthWest LNG plant proposed for Lelu Island now awaiting the green light from the federal cabinet.

That agreement would provide the Nisga’a with the capacity within the pipeline to transport natural gas for an LNG facility on its lands, something it would then assign to a developer with whom it could make a deal.

Although the Nisga’a have yet to strike a deal with an LNG developer, “we do consider this site to be optimal for LNG or other infrastructure development,” says Nisga’a Lisims Government president Mitchell Stevens of the Nasoga Gulf area.

“Our commercial arrangement with the province for purchase of the land at Nasoga Gulf would allow the [Nisga’a] Nation to continue to pursue those opportunities,” he said.

An LNG development within Nisga’a lands falls within the Nisga’a Lisims Government longterm plan to attract industry to provide both a tax base for itself and jobs for Nisga’a citizens.

For its part the provincial government says any sale of provincial Crown land to the Nisga’a would be at fair market value.

And although the Nisga’a and the province agreed upon terms of their real estate deal in February and the Lisims government authorized the financing for the deal in March, the formal transaction has yet to happen.

That’s because four northwestern First Nations, the Lax Kw’alaams, the Metlakatla, the Kitselas and the Kitsumkalum, have their own aboriginal interests in the Nasoga Gulf area, says the province.

And that brings into play a requirement from the province to consult and potentially accommodate First Nations whenever its considering selling Crown land on which they have an interest and how that interest might be affected should the land be sold.

The province has been speaking to the four First Nations but it has yet to reveal what those discussions entail or how their interests might be accommodated. The Nisga’a have offered to meet with the First Nations and expect the transaction to close within weeks.

One of those First Nations, the Metlakatla, confirmed it has been speaking with the Nisga’a and the province.

“However, given the preliminary nature of those discussions, the Metlakatla First Nation will not be commenting further at this time,” it said in a statement.