Alton Natural Gas Project opponents stage sit-in at company entrance

Cheryl Maloney, right, holds up a picture showing the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project site during a news conference Sept. 26/Photo by Stephen Brake

A group that opposes the Alton Natural Gas Project moved its occupation from the Shubenacadie riverbank to the gated driveway of the project site in Fort Ellis, N.S. to stage a sit-in Monday morning.

The group of about 20 people made up of Mi’kmaw people from various communities in Atlantic Canada, local residents and environmental activists have blocked the entrance to the Alton Natural Gas Project site by setting up a tent canopy and a folding table in front of the entrance.

Elders Isabelle Knockwood and Annabelle Thiebaux stood alongside Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association President Cheryl Maloney as she held a news conference in front of the company’s gate while security officers for Alton stood behind the gate.

Maloney said she intends to remain at Alton’s main entrance until she receives phone calls from both Alton and Stephen McNeil, Premier of Nova Scotia.

“We are asking Alton to cease operations and we ask our federal and provincial governments to take a step back and withdraw the permits to allow for clarity on the brine discharge into the river,” Maloney told reporters.

“We ask that permits be stopped until the full legal appeal process is complete,” she added.

The decision to stage a sit-in at the company’s project site entrance is in response to the company’s threat to sue the Sipekne’katik Band if eel traps placed in the water adjacent to the site weren’t removed, Maloney explained.

“I think they have to take a step back and look who’s here,” Maloney said. “We have treaty beneficiaries from all over Atlantic Canada. People from as far away as Boston, Newfoundland, Cape Breton, people have been coming here,” she said.

“This is much, much bigger than one band and for Alton to try to use those tactics against a small community is, actually, it’s just sad,” Maloney said.

Security guards for Alton stand along the gated entrance to the project site during the news conference Sept. 26/Photo by Stephen Brake
Security guards for Alton stand along the gated entrance to the project site during the news conference Sept. 26/Photo by Stephen Brake

Last week, Sipekne’katik Chief Rufus Copage told that Alton company officials met with him to discuss the occupation taking place along the riverbank next to the fence to the project site. During that meeting, Chief Copage said the company threatened to take legal action against everyone involved in the occupation if the eel traps in the water near the site weren’t removed by September 19.

According to Chief Copage, the company said it would also include the Sipekne’katik Band in any lawsuit filed because two band councillors, Cheryl Maloney and Keith Julian, were taking part in the gathering at the riverbank.

Maloney steps down as Sipekne’katik Band Councillor

As a result, Maloney said she has resigned as councillor with the Sipekne’katik Band.

“After the sacred fire this morning, I felt that it was in the best interest to protect the river and step down as councillor for the band,” she said during the news conference.

However, Maloney said after the news conference that despite her resignation, she will keep her name on the ballot for councillor in the upcoming band election November 2.

When contacted, Sipekne’katik band councillor Keith Julian said that unlike Maloney, he’ll remain on council.

“No need to (resign). I’m not doing anything that is wrong,” Julian said.

The sit-in is the latest move in the group’s ongoing protest with the Alton Natural Gas Project.

Alton, a subsidiary of AltaGas in Alberta, wants to store natural gas from the Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline in underground salt caverns. The company plans to use water from the Shubenacadie River to flush out the salt from caverns and store the salt water mixture, called brine, in holding ponds to dilute. The brine water would then be released back into the Shubenacadie River.

Opponents to Alton’s project are concerned that the brine mixture may hurt species in the river like salmon, striped bass and eel.

In January, the Nova Scotia government gave Alton permits and leases to continue with construction at the site in Fort Ellis, N.S. The Sipekne’katik Band and other organizations filed appeals with the provincial environment department against the decision. However, all six appeals were rejected.

Sipekne’katik filed an appeal with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. The hearing was set to take place in Halifax in August but it was adjourned until November.

Alton backed out of community in Indian Brook First Nation

Alton company officials backed out of attending a community meeting that was held in Indian Brook First Nation, N.S. September 19. Instead, it sent a letter to Sipekne’katik Chief Copage outlining a possible impacts and benefits agreement which include jobs, contracting opportunities, scholarships and funding for elder programs.

“We’re calling on Alton to do all of those things anyway,” Maloney said. “Do all of those things anyway as a good neighbour,” she said.

“The treaty right for us to go there to fish and put the eel traps in the water, don’t use that as a negotiation tactic against our people. That’s wrong,” Maloney said.

In an email, a spokeswomen with Alton said the company is monitoring the situation at the site in Fort Ellis and contacted law enforcement.

“Our immediate priority is to ensure the safety of our workers and the public,” Lori Maclean wrote in an email. “We respect the right of individuals to express their views in a safe manner,” she wrote.

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About Maureen Googoo 270 Articles
Maureen Googoo is an award-winning journalist from Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne'katik) in Nova Scotia. She has worked in news more than 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 journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.