Nihtat Gwich'in Council to have day in court over Inuvik wind turbine project

The Gwich’in Land and Water Board has approved the N.W.T. government’s proposal to build a wind turbine near Inuvik, but the Nihtat Gwich’in Council is going to court in an attempt to stop it.

Gwich'in Land and Water Board approved project on Nov. 27, same day court challenge filed

NT Energy wants to build a wind turbine at a place known as Highpoint, 12 kilometers east of Inuvik. The Nihtat Gwich'in Council is challenging the proposal in court. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The Nihtat Gwich'in Council is going to court in an attempt to stop the N.W.T. government's proposal to build a wind turbine near Inuvik. 

The Gwich'in Land and Water Board approved a water licence and land use permit for the Inuvik Wind Project on Nov. 27, the same day the Nihtat Gwich'in Council asked the N.W.T. Supreme Court to overturn an earlier board decision on the project.

NT Energy, a sister company of the Northwest Territories Power Corporation, wants to build a single wind turbine in an area known as Highpoint, 12 kilometres east of Inuvik. The hub of the massive turbine would be 75 to 100 meters tall.

In January, the Nihtat Gwich'in Council argued that the project is located on lands that have long been set aside for reindeer grazing. Established in December 1933, the reindeer reserve is a 17,094-square-kilometre tract of land east of the Mackenzie Delta.

Placing a turbine project on the area would contravene their land agreement, Nihtat Gwich'in Council leaders said, and requested the land and water board rule the corporation failed to establish a lawful right to occupy the land.

But the Gwich'in Land and Water Board disagreed and, in an October decision, ruled the corporation had a right to occupy the lands and the that permit was valid.

The Inuvik Wind Project was originally proposed in 2018, after the viability of the project was studied by the Aurora Research Institute. Shortly after, the power corporation submitted an application and asked for a permit to build and operate a wind farm — along with an all-season access road — to the territorial and federal governments with the hope of seeing the project completed by fall of 2020. 

According to the decision document, the plan is for NT Energy to build the project on behalf of the government, then transfer the complete project to NT Hydro (the parent company of both NT Energy and the Northwest Territories Power Corporation) to deliver renewable energy, significant fossil fuel displacement, and improve rate stability for 25 thermal zone communities. 

Going to the Supreme Court, the Nihtat Gwich'in Council called the board's decision to allow the project a "worrying precedent" for the management of public lands.

In the application, the Nihtat Gwich'in Council said there were several errors in the board's decision, including allowing a lack of consultation from the government and deciding the government has ownership over the land. 

The matter is set to be heard before a Supreme Court judge in January 2021.

With files from Richard Gleeson


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