HALIFAX – An underground natural gas storage facility proposed for central Nova Scotia has been given the green light by the province over the objections of two First Nations bands, who say they haven’t been properly consulted on the project.
The project by Alton Natural Gas Storage was put on hold in late 2014 after Mi’kmaq protesters complained that the company had failed to consult with the local native community.
Some environmentalists and the bands in nearby Millbrook and Indian Brook also raised concerns about the potential impact on the Shubenacadie River and aboriginal title.
On Thursday the chiefs for both reserves said nothing had changed, despite the province saying it had consulted with the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs and was granting approval for the next phase of the project.
“We wanted to have a referendum with my community before them going forward,” said Indian Brook chief Rufus Copage. “It seems that no matter what we say they are going forward anyway.”
Bob Gloade, chief of the Millbrook First Nation, said he was also disappointed by the approval. He said the information from a scientific study was not given to his band until Dec. 17 and they were pressed for a response the next day.
“That did not give us sufficient time to look at it, consider it or even take it to discussion with our community members,” said Gloade.
The project calls for Alton to develop three salt caverns about 1,000 metres underground. The caverns would be linked by pipeline to the nearby Maritimes and Northeast pipeline.
Both bands say they have concerns about the effects of salt being released into the river, which is home to fish including striped bass, salmon and eel.
Energy Minister Michel Samson said the government believes scientific information has shown the project is safe and doesn’t threaten the environment.
Samson also said he was satisfied the province had fulfilled its duty to consult with the Mi’kmaq, despite the fact referendums have not been held in Millbrook and in Indian Brook.
“We have an established process here in the province . . . the request to have a referendum on the First Nations is not part of that process and has never been.”
Samson said although Indian Brook did not take part in the formal consultation process over the past 18 months, they were on hand as observers.
He also said he had a two hour meeting with the chief and band council as part of wider discussions.
Copage said there may have been a meeting, but there isn’t the same understanding about where the sides stand.
“You can talk consultation but that doesn’t mean consent,” he said.
Both Copage and Gloade said their bands were meeting to consider their next steps in light of the government’s decision.
Jess Nieukerk, director of communications for Alton’s parent AltaGas Ltd., said the company remains committed to talks with the native communities to address outstanding concerns before the project resumes likely sometime this summer.
“We have reached out extensively and will continue to do so,” said Nieukerk, who added the company plans to hold open houses in Millbrook and Indian Brook next week.
The permits issued Thursday are for the operation of a brine storage pond, for a lease of Crown land to complete the brine discharge channel and agreement to construct a dike.
Development of the caverns hasn’t started and could take up to three years to complete, according to the company.