February 27, 2019 3:11 pm
Updated: February 27, 2019 4:43 pm

Allegations surface about weapons and scuffles at Alton Gas riverside site

Protesters maintain a Mi'kmaq encampment near the Shubenacadie River, a 72-kilometre tidal river that cuts through the middle of Nova Scotia and flows into the Bay of Fundy, in Fort Ellis, N.S. on Tuesday, July 31, 2018.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
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The company that wants to build natural gas storage caverns north of Halifax has levelled fresh allegations against protesters camped on its land for years, saying some are armed with knives “that could be used as weapons.”

Alton Natural Gas Storage Inc. alleges in court documents that access to a site near the Shubenacadie River has been impeded by protesters since 2016, which is partly why Alton has asked the Nova Scotia Supreme Court for an order to remove them.

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The company submitted an application for an injunction on Friday. It includes a lengthy and revealing affidavit from Alton Gas manager Robert Turner.

READ MORE: More delays for Alton underground cavern gas storage plan

“The (protesters) and their associates have created unsafe conditions at the river site, including by blocking and damaging the front gate, and erecting the illegal structure(s),” Turner says in the document.

Turner, the company’s manager of stakeholder relations, cited Facebook photos that he says show two protesters carrying large knives.

“There is a group of individuals opposed to the project who do not respect Alton’s property rights and whom we fear will resist any order of the court … by way of civil disobedience,” his affidavit says.

A spokeswoman for a group of Indigenous protesters and their allies could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but Dorene Bernard has previously denied allegations that Alton workers have been blocked from entering the site.

“We didn’t block anybody,” Bernard, a social worker, academic and member of the Sipekne’katik First Nation, said Friday. “They walked in and walked out.”

Turner’s statement goes on to allege that during a site visit on Oct. 31, a protester yelled, swore and accused him of trespassing on unceded land belonging to First Nations.

“He stepped in toward me, physically trying to stop me from moving forward,” Turner’s affidavit says. “I tried to side-step (him) but he continued to block my path and kept pushing me with his chest.”

The affidavit says Turner fell to the ground, but not before placing his hand on the protester’s chest in a bid to steady himself.

Based on frequent site visits, Turner says the protest camp is an unsanitary mess because of the presence of a compost toilet and free-range chickens and geese.

As well, he claims that a two-storey hut made from mud and straw bales is a fire hazard because it is equipped with a wood stove.

“This is a threat to public safety and the safety of the Alton employees who visit or work at the … property,” Turner says.

WATCH: Protesters block entrance at Alton Gas site

For the past 12 years, Alton Gas has been planning to pump water from the river to an underground site 12 kilometres away, where it will be used to flush out salt deposits, creating huge caverns that will eventually store natural gas.

Turner’s plea for a court order is largely based on an assertion that pumping equipment at the river site near Fort Ellis, N.S., must be repaired because it was damaged last month by a power outage and flooding.

“I am concerned that it will be difficult for Alton … and their contractors to undertake these activities without the backing of a court order that the RCMP can enforce,” Turner says.

A court hearing is slated for March 12.

Some time this spring, the company plans to bring in heavy equipment to clear a path to the pumping station, Turner said.

Alton Gas, a subsidiary of Calgary-based Alta Gas, has long insisted that it has worked hard to consult with local Indigenous groups, including the Sipekne’katik First Nation.

Members of the First Nation have argued that the project will hurt the 73-kilometre tidal river, which runs through the middle of Nova Scotia.

Alton Gas says the so-called brining process will be safe, pointing to years of scientific studies.

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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