The Pacific NorthWest LNG project planned for Lelu Island faces another challenge now that a group of 108 scientists and academics have signed a collective letter urging the federal government to reject the $11.4 billion dollar export terminal planned for the Skeena River estuary close to Port Edward.
The letter, released today, outlines a number of reasons why the signers believe that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) draft report released last month is flawed in its conclusion that the project would not have a severe impact on fish and that the methods it used to draw this conclusion were not based on sound science.
Addressed to federal environment and climate change minister Catherine McKenna, the letter was written by six scientists and co-signed by approximately 130 others, and concludes that “while we are not decision-makers, we can assess when decisions would be made based on false premises. This is one of those instances. We urge you to reject this draft report.”
The CEAA draft report was completed after a prolonged environmental review, and concluded that the project design would not adversely affect Flora Bank adjacent to Lelu Island, which is a tidal area full of eelgrass where young fish congregate.
“A worse location is unlikely to be found for PNW LNG with regard to potential risk to fish and fisheries,” reads the letter countering the ministry’s draft report.
The report is now nearing the end of a 30-day public comment stage after which it will be finalized and then sent to McKenna and other federal cabinet ministers for review.
They’ll then make the ultimate decision on whether the project is rejected or accepted pending it meets any number of conditions which may be laid out.
That federal acceptance is the last of two conditions that must be met according to an announcement made last June by the Pacific NorthWest LNG, which is majority-owned by the Malaysian-state Petronas corporation.
The first condition, already checked off, was the finalization of provincial project development agreement legislation which passed last summer.
The letter writers’ criticism of the CEAA report contained five main points including the opinion it misrepresented the importance of the area to fish, proceeded with lack of information (for example of fish species like eulachon which were never studied), relied too heavily on the science provided by Pacific Northwest LNG-funded studies, didn’t look adequately at cumulative effects, and made unproven claims that it could offset the damage it does through enhancing other areas of the watershed.
The letter states that “the protection of the Lelu Island/Flora Bank area would benefit the second-largest salmon producing watershed in Canada.”
It continues in saying that the company’s plan to enhance other areas of the watershed to offset their project’s footprint on the ecosystem “could actually cause additional damage to fishes of the Skeena River estuary.”
The six signers and co-signers are scientists, academics and others who are either active or retired from a wide variety of regional, national and international conservation organizations and universities.
Included in the list is Otto Langer, a former habitat assessment chief for the federal fisheries and oceans department and Bob Hooton, a former senior fisheries biologist for the provincial environment ministry’s Skeena Region.
Among the regional co-signers is Mark Cleveland, the head biologist for the Gitanyow Fisheries Authority. It is also co-signed by internationally-known conservationist Alexandra Morton.
Pacific NorthWest LNG has been promoting the economic benefits of the project which it says will contribute up to $1.3 billion in annual taxes and royalties to the federal, provincial and municipal governments.
Pacific NorthWest LNG “is committed to building and operating a world-class LNG facility in an environmentally sustainable manner that First Nations and residents in the region can be proud of,” said a company official last month when the draft report was released.
The Lelu Island site has already been rejected by the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation which counts it within its traditional territory and set up a protest camp at the location last year.
The Lax Kw’alaams turned down a benefits package last year that would have amounted to $1.4 billion over the life of the project.
Other Tsimshian First Nations, gathered together within the Tsimshian Environmental Stewardship Authority, including the Kitselas and Kitsumkalum have so far welcomed the report.
“All of our leaders and people have been weighing the benefits against the potential impacts through multiple public meetings. We are encouraged that the proponent has undertaken significant additional work to address concerns and that the independent scientists at CEAA [Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency] have validated this work,” said Kitselas chief councillor Joe Bevan when the report was released.
In January, a large gathering in Prince Rupert called the Salmon Summit featured the signing of a declaration calling for the permanent protection of Lelu Island. The signing included a number of First Nations hereditary chiefs and others, including Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin and Skeena – Bulkley NDP MP Nathan Cullen.