Inuvik man says his traps were bulldozed by Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link construction
James Firth says telecommunications project’s tractors destryed traps, scared away game
An Inuvik, N.W.T., trapper says he can't remain silent as the construction of the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link destroys his livelihood.
James Firth, a former chief of the Inuvik Native Band and a past Gwich'in Tribal Council vice-president, said the project's tractors bulldozed his traps and are scaring away the moose, caribou and other animals he hunts and traps.
"The season hasn't been productive this year," Firth said.
"From all the noise, all the smell. All the animals have been chased away from getting our traps run over."
A couple months after construction of the $82 million fibre optic telecommunications line between Fort Simpson and Inuvik started in January 2015, Firth first noticed traps had been bulldozed. Firth said the fibre line went directly through his trap line between North Caribou Lake and Crossing Lake, which is about 170 kilometres south of Inuvik.
Firth met with government officials to complain, and he said the officials told him to mark his traps with an orange ribbons. However, even when he and his partner did this, Firth said their traps were still mowed over.
"I let them know that I am out there. They just went ahead and did it any way. They bulldozed my traps," Firth said.
More consultation preferred
After repeated complaints, Firth threatened to take the territorial government to court for his destroyed traps and lost revenues.
The contractor offered Firth a job as an environmental monitor on the project. In September 2015, the government offered him a settlement of about $2,300.
Despite offering a settlement, the territorial government never admitted to destroying Firth's traps, saying in letters to Firth, he didn't offer enough proof.
Firth said he never accepted the settlement and didn't pursue his complaint further because he didn't see the process as going anywhere.
"I am not interested in the little money that they are trying to give. I'm interested in making sure this is right, so that if anything like this ever happens again; meaning if industry ever goes through here again, that nothing like this ever happens again that the next person is looked after or consulted."
The government held two rounds of public consultations in communities in the Deh Cho, Sahtu and Inuvik regions in 2013 and 2014. Firth said the public consultation about the project wasn't adequate and that he wasn't aware of any of the meetings.
Firth says he isn't against the project but he's against the way the project has unfolded. He accuses his land claim organization of blindly signing over Gwich'in land without respect for land users like himself or the wildlife.
"The Gwich'in Tribal Council is supposed to be there to implement our claim and my rights. As far as I am concerned the people can come in here and run over the trap line and don't even say, 'We are sorry.'"
In an email the Gwich'in Tribal Council declined to comment on Firth's case, as did the main contractor, Ledcor.
'It's a big country out there'
The territorial government told CBC News that prior to construction it wasn't aware of any trappers who were in the direct path of the fibre line. It also said there's still lots of land for trappers to use.
"It's big country out there. Anyone a kilometre outside the line is going to have all the peace and quiet they want," said Peter Clarkson, regional director in the Beaufort-Delta and Sahtu regions.
"Yes it'll be short term inconvenience but the programs and services that the fibre line is going to bring the people up and down the valley including the Beaufort-Delta in the long term are going to benefit the people."
Inspection reports from last summer have shown that some of the fibre line trenches are eroding and the line is exposed in some areas. Ledcor, the main contractor, fired its primary subcontractor, Rohl, and has pursued legal action against the company, alleging it did not properly bury the cable and protect it against erosion. Rohl subsequently announced it was countersuing Ledcor for "faulty" design and bad planning.
Ledcor has taken over the installation and repair work on the fibre line.