Coastal GasLink makes new request to meet with First Nation pipeline opponents

Image: TC Energy

VANCOUVER — The president of a company building a natural gas pipeline across northern British Columbia is renewing a request to meet with the hereditary clan chiefs of a First Nation who say the project has no authority without their consent.

Coastal GasLink president David Pfeiffer says in a letter Tuesday to Na'moks, who leads one of five clans of the Wet'suwet'en Nation, that the company's preference is to resolve the dispute over the pipeline through meaningful dialogue.

Na'moks could not immediately be reached for comment but said last week that the chiefs won't meet with industry representatives, only “decision makers” in the provincial and federal governments and RCMP leadership.

The 670-kilometre pipeline has all required permits to build from near Chetwynd in northeastern B.C. to LNG Canada's export terminal in Kitimat on the coast.

Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nations along the pipeline route, but the hereditary clan chiefs say no one is allowed on their 22,000-square kilometre territory without their consent.

On Monday, Premier John Horgan said the $6.6-billion pipeline is vital to the region's economic future and will be built despite the Wet'suwet'en chiefs' objections, adding that the courts have ruled in favour of the project.

“We want everyone to understand that there are agreements from the Peace Country to Kitimat with Indigenous communities that want to see economic activity and prosperity take place,” Horgan said. “All the permits are in place for this project to proceed. This project is proceeding and the rule of law needs to prevail in B.C.”

Pfeiffer says in the letter to Na'moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale, that Horgan's comments reinforce the need to collaborate and work together to solve their issues, in addition to and separate from the hereditary clan chiefs' conversations with the provincial government.

He suggests Friday as a date to meet and says that although the B.C. Supreme Court has granted the company an injunction to access its work site in the Wet'suwet'en traditional territory, the company would prefer to resolve the differences through dialogue.

Pfeiffer also thanked the chiefs for their support in helping the company winterize its worker accommodation site, which lies down a logging road where supporters of the hereditary chiefs have felled dozens of trees, blocking access.

The RCMP has said a criminal investigation is underway into traps likely to cause bodily harm, after officers say they found piles of tires with jugs of fuel and accelerant inside, as well as rags soaked in fuel, in the area where the trees were felled.

Members of the Wet'suwet'en say in a press release that the one-time access to winterize worker accommodations was granted to avoid damages to Coastal GasLink assets and the surrounding environment, since the work site would not be occupied during an expected cold snap.

The release says the access was offered “in good faith,” but the arrangement in no way constitutes consultation with the company and the group remains steadfast in its opposition to the pipeline.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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