Nova Scotia

Alton natural gas project gets boost when minister dismisses four appeals

Reaction following a decision by Nova Scotia's environment minister to dismiss four of six appeals filed against a natural gas storage project near Stewiacke.

Sipekne'katik chief says he refuses to 'back off'

Some community members had hoped to have a referendum on whether to allow the natural gas storage facility in the area. (Robert Short/CBC)

The chief of the Sipekne'katik First Nation has vowed to keep fighting the construction of a natural gas storage facility near Stewiacke, despite a decision by Nova Scotia's environment minister to dismiss four of six appeals filed against the project.

In January, the province gave AltaGas industrial approval to build a brine storage pond in Colchester County. The Calgary company temporarily halted construction on the facility after six appeals were filed against the project.

Rufus Copage, chief of the Sipekne'katik First Nation, said he's disappointed by the minister's decision. 

"My main concern is that they're going to start up operations and start dumping that brine in our river and ruining our river," he said. 

"People should care. We've been fishing that river for all my life," Copage said. "Most people around here fished that river with their grandparents or great-grandparents."

Copage said he had hoped the province would give community members time to study the information and have a referendum, but that didn't happen.

Minister stands behind decision

Environment Minister Margaret Miller said she's satisfied her department has considered the potential effects on the Shubenacadie River and properly consulted with First Nations people — the two major concerns highlighted in the appeals.

"There's been extensive consultation since, I believe, 2007," Miller said. "It's all been very well documented and I believe that... the province has met the full duty to consult."

She said her decision to dismiss the appeals was based on science. 

"Our job is to assess risk and to mitigate that risk," Miller said. "I believe that we have made the right decision and we've considered all potential impacts on the Shubenacadie River."

Environment Minister Margaret Miller says she feels secure that she's made the right decision. (CBC)

Boat Harbour comparison

Copage compared this situation to Boat Harbour — a former tidal estuary in Pictou County which has been receiving waste water from the nearby Northern Pulp mill since the late 1960s.

"Look what happened in Boat Harbour. They were assured the same thing: That there was going to be no problem with their river in the future — and look at it today," Copage said. 

"We're very concerned with it ruining our river and once it's ruined, it's ruined. There's no coming back from that."

Miller said she considered all of the relevant information and "I'm very secure that I've made the right decision today." She said "it will be up to any appelants if they want to take this further."

Copage said their protest will continue.

"We're not just going to lay down and quit and back off and say okay, that's it, you've made the decision."

He said he plans to meet with band councillors on Tuesday to decide their next move.

Miller has until April 25 to rule on the two outstanding appeals.

Project remains on hold

Spokesman for AltaGas, Jess Nieukerk, said the project will remain on hold until the summer in order to have more time to address the community's concerns.

He touted the benefits of the project for the area "including jobs, tax revenues and investment in the community." 

Plus, Nieukerk said "natural gas is a good transition fuel for clean energy and brings more clean energy to the province of Nova Scotia."

AltaGas is hosting a job fair in Truro on April 26.