Sipekne’katik files appeal against Alton Gas project

A news conference was held at the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax Feb. 21 to announce appeals against the Alton Gas storage project along the Shubenacadie River/Photo by Stephen Brake

The Sipekne’katik Band is appealing a decision by the Nova Scotia Department of Energy to grant approvals to Alton Gas to build salt caverns to store natural gas along the Shubenacadie River.

James Michael, the lawyer for Sipekne’katik, filed the 14-page appeal on behalf of chief and council with the Department of Environment in Halifax Thursday morning.

“There’s a constitution right to consult with the Sipekne’katik Band and that hasn’t taken place at all,” Michael said Thursday.

According to the appeal document, Sipekne’katik Chief and Council are requesting the provincial government set aside its decision on January 20 to approve the Alton Gas storage project “and engage in the appropriate consultation and accommodation of the Sipekne’katik’s interests and concerns relating to the Alton Gas project.”

“I think at minimum, there has to be a full and meaningful consultation and to accommodate and mitigate any risks to our rights and title in that particular area,” Michael explained.

Michael said Sipkne’katik chief and council have concerns with a third-party review of the project which was paid for by Alton Gas.

Several organizations are also filing appeals against the Alton Gas project. They include the Nova Scotia Striped Bass Association, the Shubenacadie River Commercial Fishermen’s Association, the Ecology Action Centre and the Council of Canadians.

They joined Sipekne’katik and Millbrook First Nation officials in a new conference held at the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax Thursday morning. The chief of Millbrook First Nation, Bob Gloade, confirmed his band is also joining Sipekne’katik in appealing province’s decision.

“Alton Gas project is fraught with environmental risks” – Ecology Action Centre

“The Alton Gas project is fraught with environmental risks that are inadequately understood and addressed,” Robin Tress with the Ecology Action Centre said during the news conference.

“The science is unsettled on many key issues. We don’t know how this project will affect fishes’ homing abilities to make it back to their birthplace for spawning,” Tress explained.

“We don’t know how eggs and larvae will be affected by the uptake of water into the brine dilution or the release of the brine,” she said.

Sipekne’katik Band Councillor Cheryl Maloney said she is concerned about the harm that may occur to striped bass in the Shubenacadie River.

“If this is the last striped bass spawning river in our district, in our territory and our fish are subjected to irreparable harm, then that duty to consult goes to the far end of the scale,” Maloney said during the news conference.

“And the Supreme Court of Canada said in (these) situations, you will and may need consent,” she added.

Nova Scotia Government’s approval violates Aboriginal and Treaty Rights

According to the appeal, Sipekne’katik claims the Nova Scotia government’s decision to grant a permit to Alton Gas to operate a brine storage pond and lease crown land violates Section 35 (1) of the Constitution Act.

The band alleges the provincial government failed “to consult with and accommodate Sipekne’katik prior to granting the approval to Alton Gas.”

Sipekne’katik also alleges that the provincial government violated Mi’kmaw people’s aboriginal and treaty rights by granting the permits and a land lease to Alton Gas.

Section 35 (1) of the 1982 Constitution Act states “The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.”

“The Province failed to fulfill its legal obligations of consultation and accommodation before granting any necessary approval for the operation of the Alton Gas brine storage pond project (project”) in Sipekne’katik traditional territory,” the appeal document states.

Environment Minister Margaret Miller has 60 days in which to review the appeals and make a decision.

In a written response, a spokeswoman with the Nova Scotia Department of Environment confirmed that four appeals have been filed with the department.

“While an appeal is underway, the industrial approval as issued remains in effect,” the spokeswomen 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.