Mi’kmaw lawyer wants Alton to stop work until court injunction is decided

Madonna Bernard (Kukuwes Wowkis), left, Michael McDonald, centre, and supporters leave the Law Courts in Halifax on Oct. 28/Photo by Stephen Brake
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The lawyer representing three Mi’kmaw women challenging a proposed permanent court injunction filed by the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project wants all current work at the site to stop while the issue is before the courts.

Michael McDonald says he has filed a cease and desist order against Alton from continuing work at its project site along the Shubenacadie River in Fort Ellis, N.S. In response, lawyers for the company have filed a motion to strike the order.

Both sides were in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax Monday to set court dates to hear arguments on Alton’s motion to strike. The hearing will take place over two days in mid-December.

Michael McDonald/Photo by Stephen Brake

“Until these proceedings are done, Alton Gas shouldn’t be doing anything yet,” McDonald said on Monday. “They’re continuing to do work and that needs to be stopped,” the Mi’kmaw lawyer added.

McDonald represents Darlene Gilbert (Thunderbird Swooping Down Woman), Madonna Bernard (Kukuwes Wowkis) and Paula Isaac (Kiju Muin). The women are members of a grandmothers group who are opposed to Alton’s plans to store natural gas in underground salt caverns.

The grandmothers group and their supporters are concerned the brine water being released back into the river will harm its ecosystem.

Gilbert says she saw construction work being done at the project site in Sept.

“There’s a new water bed that was built and it was drilled at nighttime,” Gilbert said following the court hearing on Monday. “It looks like a football field and it’s about ten feet deep,” she said.

Grandmothers arrested for violating temporary injunction

Alton plans to use water from the Shubenacadie River to dissolve the salt in underground caverns to create space to store natural gas. The salty water mixture, or brine, will be placed in holding ponds located near the riverbank before being released into the river.

Earlier this year, the group was occupying a straw bale house they built at the entrance to the project site. In March, a Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice granted Alton a temporary injunction to remove those people occupying the bale house.

Gilbert, Bernard and Isaac were still occupying the straw bale house when they were arrested and charged in April for violating the temporary court injunction. The company then razed the bale house.

The Treaty Truckhouse next to Alton Natural Gas Storage Project site along the Shubenacadie River/Photo by Stephen Brake

In an email response to Ku’ku’kwes News, Alton spokeswoman Lori Maclean said Gilbert’s claim about a new pond being constructed is inaccurate. Maclean also said no construction activity has taken place at night.

“The ponds at the river site are the existing freshwater pond and brine pond, both of which have been in place for several years,” Maclean wrote.

There is ongoing monitoring by researchers from Dalhousie University on the Shubenacadie River estuary, she added.

In regards to work at the Alton river site, Maclean said the company is “working on regulatory and construction planning for the project.”

“We are also working on the natural gas pipeline routing, with some field work scheduled through the fall to confirm the best route with the least impact,” Maclean wrote.

Meanwhile, Alton’s application for a permanent injunction is still before the court.

McDonald has submitted a constitutional challenge to the permanent injunction on behalf of his clients. He says the Alton property along the Shubenacadie River is also unceded Mi’kmaw territory. That means, according to McDonald, that Aboriginal title exists and his clients have a say on what happens on the land.

“We’re not after no fee simple title. We just want the courts to affirm that Mi’kmaw people have absolute title to these lands because they’re unceded,” McDonald said.

“We are a sovereign nation, that we never ceded or sold any of these lands that we live on. They’re still our lands and we have a say on what happens on our lands,” he added.

McDonald expects the hearings on the constitutional challenge to the permanent injunction application to take place in early 2020.

*Note: This news story has been updated to include comments from Alton Natural Gas Storage Project disputing claims that new construction of a pond took place at night. 


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About Maureen Googoo 225 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 journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.