Mi’kmaq community in N.S. appeals approval of Alton Gas facilities

An Indigenous community is before the courts today appealing a Nova Scotia government decision to approve a controversial project to store natural gas in underground caverns north of Halifax.

Lawyer Raymond Larkin, who represents Sipekne’katik First Nation, told Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Frank Edwards there weren’t sufficient consultations with the community before the project was granted approval.

Larkin says former environment minister Margaret Miller failed to properly assess what Aboriginal rights were affected by the project. If she’d done so, he says she would have realized – based on prior decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada – that “deep consultations” had to take place.

Miller released her government’s decision last April to give Alton Gas industrial approval for the project near Shubenacadie, saying the Mi’kmaq communities were treated appropriately.

She also determined the province’s terms and conditions are sufficient to protect the environment.

Alton Gas plans to pump water from the Shubenacadie River to an underground site 12 kilometres away, where it will be used to flush out salt deposits and create up to 15 storage caverns.

Protesters have gathered at the site for several years, arguing the plan poses dangers to the traditional fisheries of the Mi’kmaq and risks harming the 73-kilometre river used by Indigenous populations for thousands of years.

Miller had written last year that the record “reflects extended efforts by the province to understand, explain, and mitigate against the impacts the Alton Natural Gas Storage project … would have on fish, fish habitat and Aboriginal rights.”

“I conclude that the level of consultation was appropriate to the circumstances and to the Aboriginal and treaty rights as asserted.”

Miller told reporters at the time she also regarded the river as “sacred,” however she said there are safeguards in place to prevent excessive salinity in the river.

Her decision last year came after a 2017 Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruling that quashed the minister’s original decision to dismiss the First Nation’s appeal after she approved the project in 2016.

Justice Suzanne Hood concluded in that earlier decision that the First Nation was not supplied with the documents to mount a proper appeal, although she did not order a stay of the minister’s project approval.

Since then, the company has obtained an injunction limiting protesters to a designated area of about 22 metres by 38 metres. Those who don’t comply face arrest by the RCMP.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2020.

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