First Nations to use courts in pipeline fight

VANCOUVER — As the federal review of Kinder Morgan’s $6.8-billion Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion nears its end, at least a dozen First Nations continue to say the review is flawed, and they oppose the project over its potential environmental effects.

Those effects, they say, include the risk of tanker spills in Burrard Inlet.

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Barring intervention in the review process by the new federal government under Justin Trudeau, these First Nations are prepared to take their fight to the courts.

That would set the stage for a legal battle already playing out with another oil pipeline in B.C. — Enbridge’s proposed $7.9-billion Northern Gateway project.

“We are prepared and we are going to rely on the Canadian constitution to protect our indigenous rights. We are relying on the courts,” says Ruben George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation.

“What we continue to say is that no matter what it takes, we are going to stop [the pipeline project],” said George, who manages the Tsleil-Waututh’s initiative to oppose the Trans Mountain expansion.

The Tseil-Waututh, who claim traditional territory on Burrard Inlet at the terminus of the project in Burnaby, are among First Nations that oppose the project and will be providing their final summary arguments to the National Energy Board panel next month at the Delta Burnaby Hotel.

Also among those who say the review is “fatally flawed” and oppose the project are the Musqueam, Squamish and Shxw’owhamel First Nations in the Lower Mainland; the T’souke and Tsawout First Nations from Vancouver Island; and the Shakan and Upper Nicola in the Interior.

The summary arguments are the last stage of the hearing process before the panel makes a decision and forwards their report and recommendations to the federal government. The NEB panel has until May to deliver its report to the Trudeau government, which will make the final decision.

George said the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation is prepared to work with the federal government, but is concerned the review of Trans Mountain will not be subject to more scrutiny as the Liberals promised during the election campaign.

Earlier this month, responding to a question in Parliament, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said projects already in a review process will not have to go back to “square one,” but there will be a transition period “that will embody the principles that were in the campaign platform.”

During the election, the Liberals promised to strengthen the environmental assessment process, which they said had been gutted by the Stephen Harper-led Conservatives who set shorter timelines and restricted participation.

Houston-based Kinder Morgan says it has received letters of support from 30 aboriginal groups, including in B.C. Among those First Nations are the Kamloops and Ashcroft Indian Bands in the Interior; the Nicomen and Semiahmoo First Nations in the Lower Mainland; and the Malahat and Esquimalt First Nations on Vancouver Island. First Nations in Alberta that have signed on in support include the Paul and Enoch Cree First Nations.

“The letters indicate that each community formally expresses their support for the project, does not object to the project and/or is satisfied by the mitigation measures and the consultation provided with respect to the project,” Trans Mountain spokeswoman Lisa Clement said in an email.

“Several of the communities also expressed their opinion that the project will result in positive effects,” she said.

Kinder Morgan wants to twin its existing 1,150-kilometre pipeline from the Alberta oilsands to its terminus at Burnaby. That will triple capacity and is meant to open up new markets in Asia and the U.S. for Canadian oil.

The Tsleil-Waututh’s main concerns centre on the effects of an oil spill, which they say is more likely as the project will increase oil tanker traffic nearly seven-fold to about 400 visits a year.

Kinder Morgan has said it will mitigate increased risks of oil spills by increasing tug escorts in inland ocean waters and beefing up spill-response capacity.

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