With all the delays, twists and turns surrounding the Pacific Northwest (PNW) LNG proposed natural gas liquefaction and export terminal on Lelu Island, many will need a scorecard just to understand who the players are and where exactly we are in the proverbial game.
As expected with any multi-dimensional, large-scale multi-billion-dollar project, the number of geographical areas, people and habitats affected are numerous. And the responsibility to consult with those affected, both municipalities and First Nations is paramount in ensuring the proponents receive a green light for their investment from the federal cabinet, in this case, an $11.4 billion project off of Port Edward.
PNW’s consultation process began many years ago and, while culminating in a draft Environmental Assessment Report in February, is a fluid and ever-changing process that involves stakeholders across B.C. and beyond.
LELU ISLAND’S BACKYARD
Five Aboriginal groups were identified by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) ‘whose potential or established Aboriginal rights or title could be adversely affected by the project’.
Those included the Lax Kw’alaams Band, the Metlakatla First Nation, the Gitxaala Nation, the Kitsumkalum First Nation and the Kitselas First Nation. The Gitga’at First Nation was added in 2013 to that list.
After a process that involved phone calls, letters, emails, presentations and discussions on the technical aspects of the project and potential impacts to Aboriginal groups’ interests and rights and title and in-person meetings with all six Nations, CEAA stated in the report that Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams “were provided with the opportunity to participate in archaeological surveys and investigative geotechnical programs on Lelu Island, and to tour the project area” and Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla, Kitsumkalum, Kitselas and Gitxaala participated and reviewed studies involving tree surveys, marine foreshore surveys, marine bird and bird nesting studies, eelgrass surveys, marine sediment sampling, soil sampling, freshwater streams fish sampling, meteorological data collection, environmental monitoring of drilling programs and more.
After a review by many First Nations, the work done by hired independent scientists, Metlakatla, Gitxaala, Kitsumkalum, Kitselas and Lax Kw’alaams all signalled their conditional support, with a heavy emphasis on environmental monitoring with regular reports of fish and marine life habitats and much more to be given to them by the proponent and CEAA during the lifetime of the terminal.
All five of those bands have been active with PNW in signing Impact Benefit Agreements (an agreement, monetary and otherwise, in outlining land, training, employment, community infrastructure, habitat improvements, revenue sharing and education aspects of the project).
“The Metlakatla First Nation has been fully engaged in the environmental assessment of the Pacific NorthWest LNG project. From our involvement, Metlakatla has submitted clear recommendations (conditions) to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency related to the project. In our opinion, the conditions identify potential impacts and the requirement to mitigate and monitor any work related to the project. Once the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the Federal Cabinet render their decision, Metlakatla will further review the decision and conditions and move to monitor the project — if approved — to ensure the regulations are adhered to,” said Shaun Thomas, Metlakatla communications coordinator.
The Gitga’at First Nation did not participate in the endorsement of the CEAA process and has yet to sign an agreement. Additionally, Gitga’at chief councillor Arnold Clifton wrote in a statement last July, “Anthropological evidence and our Adawx, which are the oral records of the Gitga’at, show that we have fished and hunted in Prince Rupert Harbour and the lower Skeena River since before the European settlers arrived. Prince Rupert Harbour is a large part of our social, cultural and economic life and proposed LNG developments would impact the rights and livelihood of every Gitga’at member.”
A legal challenge was launched against PNW last year, establishing the Gitga’at as one of the Tsimshian First Nations deserving of full consultation and associated benefits with the project. The Lax Kw’alaams Band has since refuted this claim and launched their own legal challenge in the Supreme Court of B.C. establishing a very large portion of North Coast land, including many crown lands and Lelu Island as its own, with full rights and title.
LAX KW’ALAAMS REVERSAL
Since the challenge, Lax Kw’alaams Mayor John Helin wrote a letter of support to federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna in mid-March, reversing the Band’s rejection of the terminal and supporting the project, with conditions that PNW must report its environmental monitoring work to an Environmental Performance Committee and that PNW respond to any enforcement actions that have been recommended by the Environmental Performance Committee. This committee would be made up of the Lax Kw’alaams, CEAA and other federal representatives.
An alliance of Tsimshian First Nations between Metlakatla, Gitxaala, Kitsumkalum, Kitselas and even the Gitga’at (Lax Kw’alaams are not included) called the Tsimshian Environmental Stewardship Authority (TESA) provided much of the First Nations-led environmental groundwork, for four of the five Nations to sign on to the project, with stringent conditions.
At a March 1 Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce, Gitxaala Chief Clifford White signalled that while many of TESA’s independently hired scientists found deficiencies in CEAA’s summary report, none were so catastrophic as to prevent the support of Gitxaala and a few fellow Nations from signalling their conditional support.
To date, five of the six identified North Coast First Nations have, in some capacity, shown support or signed agreements with PNW (Metlakatla, Kitsumkalum, Kitselas, Lax Kw’alaams and Gitxaala), while one has yet to do so (Gitga’at).
LAX KW’ALAAMS UNREST
But hold on.
That’s not the end of the story for the Lax Kw’alaams.
While Mayor Helin wrote to the federal government in March, there are still those within the Band who disagree with the letter of support and have been making their voice heard by occupying Lelu Island itself.
In April, a number of the dissenters visited Ottawa to report to the Prime Minister’s Office that First Nations support is not universal.
That group included Lax Kw’alaams Hereditary Chief Yahaan, Donald Wesley, and Gwishawaal, Ken Lawson, both of the Gitwilgyoots Tribe of the Lax Kw’alaams.
As well, former Mayor Garry Reece added his name to the proceedings, who called on the federal regulators to reject PNW’s proposed site.
“We have travelled to Ottawa to set the record straight with the Canadian government. As the proper titleholders and decision-makers for Lelu Island and Flora Bank, we have not been properly consulted. Without our agreement, this project cannot and will not proceed,” said Wesley.
Reece added that Helin failed to consult his elected council, hereditary chiefs and the community before sending the letter of support in April.
Last year, the Lax Kw’alaams community voted to reject a $1 billion benefits agreement, although reports state that the various proceedings were through show of hand and not anonymous voting procedures.
And while Chief Yahaan states his non-support (the Gitwilgyoots Tribe claims to be the one governing the area involving Lelu Island and Flora Bank — a juvenile salmon habitat and a large reason for much of the opposition of the terminal), numerous other Lax Kw’alaams hereditary chiefs and leaders have come out rejecting Wesley’s claim to the title of hereditary chief through a letter posted in May, including Gitwilgyoots Chief Ligiut-gwa’alk (Donald Alexcee).
“A RADICAL HANDFUL”
“It has been with increasing alarm that we have witnessed the occupation of Lelu Island by a small radical handful of our community members – particularly when they continue to misrepresent our Tribes, falsely suggest they represent our community, and who continually mislead the public as to their powers and support,” the letter states, signed by 11 Ts’msyen Chiefs, matrons, elders and hereditary leaders of the Nine Tribes of Lax Kw’alaams.
“Mr. Donald Wesley is not a hereditary chief and he should cease representing himself as one. We are mystified as to how he came to hold the hereditary title of Yahaan that he pretends to carry. He does not have authority to represent our Tribes and should immediately cease and desist doing so publicly,” the letter continues.
The Prince Rupert Port Authority has also told Lelu Island occupiers to halt building structures on the island and may threaten legal action if the work continues. The occupiers have previously stated they have plans for a cultural resource centre and a scientific base camp for researchers in the area.
Wesley and Helin have not responded to repeated requests for comment.
An artist’s rendering of the bridge extension that was added to the project after an environmental evaluation was completed early in the process. The bridge’s height allows vessels to pass underneath. Photo courtesy of Pacific NorthWest LNG
OUTSIDE OF THE NORTH COAST
The PNW project affects many First Nation communities outside of Lelu Island and the North Coast where it’s proposed to be situated. The TransCanada Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project passes through many communities and on the outskirts of even more.
A total of 11 First Nations have signed agreements with TransCanada, allowing the natural gas pipeline through their territories.
The McLeod Lake Indian Band, Takla Lake First Nation, Doig River First Nations, Halfway River First Nation, Yekooche First Nations, Gitanyow First Nation, Lake Babine Nation, Blueberry River First Nation, Metlakatla, Kitselas and Nisga’a Lisims Government have all signed on to pipeline-specific agreements.
Additionally, at least three First Nations submitted public comments to the federal government through the open comment period by CEAA in the spring.
The Council of the Haida Nation, Gitxsan First Nation and Wet’suwet’en First Nation all submitted comments strongly citing a lack of proper consultation and impacts that may affect each Nation’s rights and title to their territory.
The Council of the Haida Nation outlined deficiencies of the CEAA process which included, among others, a lack of specific environmental assessment of the impact of the project on Haida territory by the proponent or federal government, a gap in assessment of Haida Gwaii marine resources like fish and birds, a lack of information regarding LNG ship carriers in Haida territory, marine shipping impacts, potential spills and more.
“The proposed public consultation process in respect of the project is not legally sufficient to meet the Crown’s obligations to the Haida Nation, is not in keeping with the spirit and intent of agreements, and is not in keeping with the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the concept of reconciliation as a relationship. We welcome an opportunity to meet and develop an appropriate and legally sufficient process to assess the impacts of the project on Haida Gwaii and the Haida Nation,” wrote President of the Haida Nation, Peter Lantin, in the submission.
Gitxsan officials also cited a lack of consultation in their letter submission to CEAA. In it, it’s revealed that last summer the Gitxsan notified the Crown and CEAA that the Nation had not been consulted on the terminal “which according to numerous scientific reports, will have very significant harmful impacts to the fisheries in the Skeena River watershed” to which the Gitxsan have said is an area where they have established fishing rights.
CEAA responded last August, stating that “Taking into consideration the spatial scope of the project, and any mitigation required as enforceable conditions that would prevent upstream impacts, the agency is of the view that your interests will not be impacted by the project.”
The Gitxsan chiefs and elected councils conclude in their letter to reject the draft report and to engage in consultation and accommodation between the Gitxsan and PNW LNG and CEAA.
Similarly, the Wet’suwet’en claim the importance of the Skeena River (and Bulkley River) and salmon stocks are vital to the Nation. The Nation also cites a lack of proper consultation from CEAA in its letter.
“Considering the possible magnitude of cumulative environmental effects on Wet’suwet’en culture, and the lack of recovery plans or strategies to address those effects, the office of the Wet’suwet’en require the governments of British Columbia and Canada to sit down with the Wet’suwet’en to find resolution,” wrote the office of the Wet’suwet’en.
So, to reduce the First Nations to simple support or non-support until more consultation has taken place, 14 are in favour and four are against as of June 2016. Of course, various factions within each Nation prevents most of them from being whole-hearted endorsements and more Nations than the ones listed here may also stake claims to being impacted by the project.
Environmental monitoring workers perform tests on-site in the project area. An environmental draft report was submitted to the federal government early this year from CEAA. Photo courtesy of Pacific NorthWest LNG
THE MUNICIPALITY FACTOR
Municipalities and regional districts across B.C. have also voiced their support for the project.
Among the closest geographic municipal jurisdictions, the District of Port Edward has given its full support behind the terminal. Additionally, a revenue-sharing agreement was reached with the district and PNW.
“The changes that have been made to the facility have ensured Port Edward will continue to experience a unique quality of life. The terminal is a “game-changing” opportunity for residents and businesses alike in the area and the district is satisfied with PNW’s extensive studies into the effects on fish, specifically salmon. The district also supports CEAA’s draft report, Port Edward officials outlined in a letter approved by Mayor Dave MacDonald and council.
The City of Prince Rupert has yet to sign an agreement with PNW, and stated in a submission to CEAA that extensive monitoring and reporting practices need to include the city as well as other authorities. The city also stated the lack of socio-economic impact in the CEAA report that would affect Prince Rupert should the project go ahead. The city has been studying effects in co-operation with the province and other stakeholders to measure what kind of impact an increase in population, temporary or permanent, the project would have on the city.
“Currently the City of Prince Rupert is still in negotiations with PNW LNG for an Impact Benefits Agreement and is awaiting results from the CEAA process,” wrote city communications manager Veronika Stewart in late May.
The Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District (SQCRD) has also yet to support the PNW terminal in any formal manner.
“At this time, the Board has not taken an official position with respect to any of the various LNG projects proposed for the area,” said SQCRD deputy corporate officer Daniel Fish in May.
Outside the immediate area, the City of Terrace, City of Fort St. John, City of Dawson Creek, District of Hudson’s Hope, District of Taylor, District of Chetwynd, District of Tumbler Ridge, Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, Peace River Regional District, District of Mackenzie, District of New Hazelton and City of Prince George have all signed on to either PNW LNG, the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission (PRGT) pipeline, Progress Energy (gas source) or the integrated project.
In total, 12 municipalities and one regional district has signalled support.
The PNW project also has the full backing of B.C. Premier Christy Clark and the Liberal B.C. government, who have been making their case to Ottawa to seek support for exporting LNG to Asian countries.
NDP North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice has said she will not support the project where it is currently situated and a move to a more appropriate location, such as Ridley Island, may be a better option.
“The same project on a different site could face far fewer challenges,” Rice said in April.
As well, two other northern MLAs, Doug Donaldson (Stikine riding) and Robin Austin (Skeena riding) rejected the terminal on Lelu Island because the site is a refuge for wild salmon and other marine resources and signed the declaration. In a letter dated in March, shared with federal regulators, the official opposition B.C. NDP rejected the proposed terminal due to the generation of greenhouse gases and salmon run dangers.
MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT WEIGH IN
Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen has consistently stated that Lelu Island is the wrong site for a proposed LNG terminal, and that while the proponent has dutifully contacted area First Nations, if the science proves to be too damaging to marine life in the Skeena estuary, it should not go ahead. Cullen also signed the salmon protection declaration in January.
Conversely, Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies Conservative MP Bob Zimmer has signalled his support for the project in a statement made in February.
“I am pleased to see that CEAA’s draft report concludes that this important project could avoid significant environmental effects. I trust that the Prime Minister and his cabinet will do the right thing and approve Pacific NorthWest LNG as this project will help dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in China’s industrial sector, making LNG good for British Columbia, Canada and the globe,” Zimmer wrote.
The Prince Rupert Port Authority, the steward organization of Crown land in Prince Rupert and the area, has included the PNW LNG facility in its Gateway 2020 vision, a diversification and growth plan for the organization.
THE FINAL TALLY?
While many First Nations, municipalities and politicians have signalled their position on the project one way or another, many are still in negotiation with the proponent or government, or are awaiting negotiations. Some have outright rejected it.
For its part, Pacific NorthWest LNG states that it appreciates all the cooperative work that has been done up to this point.
“Pacific NorthWest LNG is proud of the relationships that we have forged with area First Nations and residents throughout northwestern British Columbia over the past four years,” said Spencer Sproule, senior advisor, corporate affairs at PNW.
“The feedback and participation of First Nations and residents means a lot to us, evidenced by the numerous changes already incorporated into our project design. As our project progresses, we hope to build on the positive relationships that we have forged in the effort to construct a world-leading LNG facility that everyone in the region can be proud of, and benefit from.”
Once the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna receives the necessary information from PNW on further requests for information relayed to the proponent at the beginning of March, the minister would submit her recommendation to the Cabinet within 90 days.
That clock has yet to start.