Sipekne’katik asks court to delay Alton Gas project until decision on appeal is made

Sipekne'katik Band lawyer Jim Michael (right) and band councillor Cheryl Maloney (centre) attended the court hearing in Halifax June 22/Photo by Stephen Brake

The Sipekne’katik Band in Nova Scotia is asking a Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice to grant a stay of the provincial government’s decision to approve the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project.

The band wants the court to grant the stay until the outcome of its appeal of the same decision is determined. The court hearing for the appeal is scheduled for August 17-18 in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax. Justice Joshua M. Arnold is scheduled to preside over the two-day hearing.

The stay would delay Alton Natural Gas Storage Project LP’s plans to release salt brine water into the Shubenacadie River starting August 29.

Sipekne’katik’s lawyer, Raymond Larkin, appeared before Justice Michael J. Wood in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax Wednesday to argue for the stay.

“One cannot presume that the judge hearing the appeal is going to be able to have their decision made by the time the brine is permitted to start under that construction project,” Larkin said in court Wednesday.

“So if Sipekne’katik is successful, in my submission, it would be a serious injustice to Sipekne’katik, the Mi’kmaq people represented that they would argue an appeal and succeed but in the meantime, before the judge renders his decision that the brining starts,” Larkin said.

Stay “is pointless.” – Lawyer for NS Environment Minister

Sadie Beaton (right), attended the court hearing with her children Ace (left) and Mica, to show support for the Sipekne'katik Band/Photo by Stephen Brake
Sadie Beaton (right), attended the court hearing with her children Ace (left) and Mica, to show support for the Sipekne’katik Band/Photo by Stephen Brake

Lawyers for both the Alton Gas company and the provincial Minister of the Environment argued that a stay is not needed before the appeal is heard in August.

“If that’s all the applicants are seeking, they don’t need a stay,” Robert Grant, lawyer for Alton Natural Gas Storage Project LP, said during the hearing.

“The appeal would be heard on August 17th and 18th and the schedule does not contemplate brining operations to commence until August 29th,” Grant explained.

Alexander Cameron, lawyer for the Minister of Environment, argued that a stay “is pointless.”

“So if the brining is not going to begin until the end of August and the stay is in effect until August 17th, then the stay would have absolutely no practical effect whatsoever,” Cameron said in court.

“This is much ado about nothing,” he added.

However, Larkin clarified in court that Sipekne’katik is seeking a stay until a decision in the its appeal is reached, not when the appeal is heard in court.

Alton Natural Gas Storage LP has proposed to construct salt caverns near the Shubenacadie River to store natural gas. The company wants to flush out the salt from the caverns and store the salt water mixture, called brine, in storage ponds. It will then release the brine water into the Shubenacadie River during tidal activity.

In January, Nova Scotia Energy Minister Michel Samson granted approval to Alton Natural Gas Storage LP to operate a brine storage pond, a lease to complete the dispersion channel and an agreement to construct a dyke on crown land.

Alton previously received approval from the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board in 2013 to construct the salt caverns.

The Sipekne’katik Band, along with other organizations, appealed the provincial government’s approvals for the project with the provincial Department of Environment. In April, Environment Minister Margaret Miller dismissed all of the appeals. However, Miller indicated in all of her decisions the parties have a right to appeal her decision in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Justice Wood adjourned the hearing until June 28.

At that time, Justice Wood will then consider whether to render a decision on the Sipekne’katik Band’s request for a stay or refer the matter to Justice Arnold who will hear the appeal in mid-August.


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About Maureen Googoo 174 Articles

Maureen Googoo is an award-winning journalist from Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne’katik) in Nova Scotia. She has worked in news for 30 years for media outlets such as CBC Radio, the Chronicle-Herald and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

Maureen has an arts degree in political science from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, a post-graduate degree in journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.