APTN National News
The highest tides in the world rushed into the Shubenacadie River in Nova Scotia as a group of Mi’kmaq people cheered the oncoming muddy waters, the longest tidal bore in the province.
“This is why we’re here,” said Cheryl Maloney, a member of the nearby Sipekne’katik band.
Maloney organized a fishing derby as a peaceful way to assert Aboriginal treaty rights. The Mi’kmaq gathered on a dyke in front of the area where a company plans to dump salty waste water, or brine as its also known. The Alton gas company wants to create underground salt caverns to store natural gas.
The project has been in the works since 2007. But in recent weeks, controversy over environmental concerns and consultation has made headlines. And though the province gave the go-ahead seven years ago, major construction near the river only began this summer. The Mi’kmaq are calling for a halt to the project.
“So I think we’re looking at a judicial review of the whole permitting process with Nova Scotia and also the consultation efforts this company made,” said Maloney.
Elder Billy Lewis says the Mi’kmaq never ceded land when they signed the Peace and Friendship Treaties in the 1700s. Along with the other 50 to 60 people that showed up Saturday, Lewis came “to assert the rights that we already have and to that’s more important than anything else. “And that’s why I’m here today,” said Lewis, “to assert those rights that existed long before Canada existed.”
Though the group at the derby is small, their message is echoed by Mi’kmaq leaders. Rufus Copage is chief of the Sipekne’katik band. He remembers fishing on the river when he was a child. Now he brings his grandchildren here to fish for striped bass and eel.
“This is traditional Mi’kmaq territory,” said Copage. “I don’t support dumping anything in this river that shouldn’t be there.”
Chief Copage and his council have had meetings with the company to get information on the project but he’s hesitant to call it consultation. He’s not alone. In a press release, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Chiefs say the company hasn’t engaged the Mi’kmaq in a meaningful way and “is strongly advising that the Province withhold any permits or approvals for this project until all of our concerns are addressed and accommodated.”
The Alton Natural Gas Storage company, a subsidiary of the Alberta-based AltaGas, will engineer three underground salt caverns. To do so, it will pump water from the river through a 12 kilometre pipeline and then down a well, half a kilometre underground. The water dissolves the salt deposits and then that brine will be pumped back to the holding pond and released into the Shubenacadie River at high tides.
The company expects to have the caverns ready to store natural gas by 2017. Once the caverns are completed – no more brine. But according to the Assembly of Nova Scotia Chiefs, if the market improves, there could be as many as 10 to 15 salt caverns down the road.
This will be the first facility to store natural gas in the Atlantic region and, according to the company, will help stabilize prices, especially when demand is high during winter months. Though salt caverns are used to store natural gas in western Canada, dumping the brine into a river system is untested. The Alton company has studied it for the past six years and says it will monitor the salinity of the river, making sure it stays within acceptable levels.
The Shubenacadie River is the only spawning ground for the striped bass in the Bay of Fundy and the rare Bay of Fundy Atlantic salmon are dependent on this habitat. The list of species that live and spawn in these waters is long; fish that thrive in the mix of fresh and saltwater.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) wrote a report used in the environmental assessment in 2007. It describes the river system as “dynamic.” The extreme tides change from day to day, season to season, depending on the weathe: “This high degree of natural variability introduces a high level of uncertainty into predictions of potential impacts.”
Roger Hunka says that unpredictability may spell bad news for the resources and the Aboriginal right to them.
“Once they’re gone, they’re gone.” said Hunka who is with Aquatic Resources for the Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council.
He worries over the fact the company will be monitoring itself.
“Where’s the third party? The third set of eyes? he said.
According to Hunka, the consultation process has failed and puts the blame on the province of Nova Scotia.
“It has not been clear and forthright and that comes back on the Crown,” said Hunka.
At the fishing derby, the Mi’kmaq set eel traps and cast their lines out on the waters of the Shubenacadie River. In the background, a construction zone. Though the permit to operate the brine pond hasn’t been granted yet, Alton Gas is busy building the holdings ponds and burying its pipelines.
“We’re here today trying to stop something that’s already in full gear? How do we stop it,” said Billy Lewis.
People here say plans for another protest is in the works.