February 18, 2016 3:51 pm
Updated: February 18, 2016 6:33 pm

First Nations, environmental groups appealing Alton gas project approval

WATCH ABOVE: Members of First Nations, environmental and community groups have filed at least half a dozen appeals to Nova Scotia’s environment minister challenging the province’s decision to approve the Alton gas project near Stewiacke. Rebecca Lau reports.

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Members of First Nations, environmental and community groups have filed at least half a dozen appeals to Nova Scotia’s environment minister challenging the province’s decision to approve the Alton gas project near Stewiacke.

Neighbouring First Nation bands says they were never properly consulted and the project impacts treaty rights.

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READ MORE: N.S. government approves contentious proposal for Alton underground gas storage

“It’s a case of a little too late for consultation when the project is virtually 95, 97 per cent complete. How meaningful is that? How much dialogue can you have?” Jim Michael, the band solicitor for Sipekne’katik First Nation, said.

“We’re asking for the permit to be revoked by the minister and to come to the table and engage in consultation and fulfill the honour of the Crown.”

The project was already put on hold in 2014 after Mi’kmaq protesters said the AltaGas Ltd. had failed to consult them. Last month, the province approved the application.

It allows the company to use water from the Shubenacadie estuary to flush out underground salt caverns. The wastewater will be pumped back into the river and the empty caverns will be used to store natural gas.

“The community and the residents have voiced numerous concerns when the proponent was not able to answer the questions properly or effectively during those meetings,” Millbrook First Nation Chief Bob Gloade said.

“That’s not proper engagement, that’s not proper consultation. That’s a one-way dialogue, so they just basically sat there, listened to the concerns and left.”

Environmental groups that filed appeals say there are concerns about the impact to fish habitat and questions about the validity of scientific studies that were conducted to support the project.

“The moment they push that button…thousands of gallons of fresh water, thousands of particles of fish nutrient, young fish, even small juvenile fish, will be sucked into that screen,” said Willy Courtney from the Shubenacadie River Commerical Fishermen’s Association.

A group of residents has filed an appeal as well. Colin Hawks and his wife live less than half a kilometre from the storage site.

“Safety issues are one of our main concerns,” he said.

“The site has been described to do with natural gas storage in salt caverns, has been described by Alton Gas as being safe. Past history and even recent ones including Los Angeles has proven that is not the case. These sites are the least used and the most problematic of all the storage sites.”

In a statement, Alton Natural Gas Storage says it respects the rights of stakeholders to appeal the government’s decision and that they plan to work with community and First Nations members during the next phase of their project.

“The project has been designed to the highest levels of safety and environmental protection,” the statement reads. “This includes appropriate environmental and ecosystem measures to protect the Shubenacadie River, its fish and fish habitat.”

Despite the appeals that have been filed, work will continue at the site for now.

“The approval allowed for work to proceed immediately. It doesn’t stop when there’s an appeal,” Margaret Miller, the province’s environment minister, said.

The deadline for appeals is next Monday. The environment minister will then have 60 days until she renders a decision.

© 2016 Shaw Media

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