Fort Nelson FN wins legal challenge over frack sand mines

Treaty 8 Tribal Chief Liz Logan

The Fort Nelson First Nation has confirmed it has won a legal challenge in BC Supreme Court against the BC Environmental Assessment Office and Canadian Silica Industries, part of the Calgary-based LaPrairie Group of Companies.

According to Chief Liz Logan, “The developer has proposed six frack sand mines in our territory — four of them side-by-side.”

She adds, “Each of these mines would be a significant development that harms our treaty rights and together would form a major industrial project, which would cause serious damage to our lands.”

She also claims, “The company split their proposals up, staggered them and set their sales targets just below their idea of the threshold, to try to avoid an environmental assessment… and says rather than scrutinize this proposal the province accepted the developer’s view and decided the first mine was not reviewable.”

The release contends the court rejected the EAO’s “uncritical acceptance” of the developer’s approach, putting the companies’ commercial interest ahead of the First Nations treaty rights, and the public interest in environmental assessment.

The First Nation’s Chief Operating Officer is Marc Boucher.

“The significance of this judgement is clear — the Komie North Mine, and the five other frack sand mines Canadian Silica has proposed in FNFN territory should now receive a full environmental assessment,” Boucher said.

Chief Logan calls the court judgement encouraging, but hasn’t ruled out development of FNFN territory saying, “We want to work with the province and with proponents to ensure development in our territory is sustainable, responsible, and consistent with our way of life.

A news release this week quoted the judge as saying, “Uncritical acceptance of a proponent driven assessment at the front end of the environmental regulatory process has the very real potential to defeat existing treaty rights, by allowing projects to proceed without environmental assessment, and with any relief to the FNFN being left to sanctions, which may be of no or little benefit once those rights have been abrogated.”

The news release also says the court found that the Environment Assessment Office cannot simply accept the information presented by proponents, but must consult with the First Nation about impacts on treaty rights, and independently consider the company proposal.

CSI is one of the LaPrairie Group of Companies-based in Calgary-and spokesman Cliff LaPrairie told us, “We are very disappointed by the judge’s decision and feel that he’s wrong in law.”

LaPrairie added: “We are examining our appeal options with respect to the decision right now.”

However, he also said, “The company respects what the courts have to say, and from our perspective we’ll follow all the necessary steps with the regulators and the Fort Nelson First Nation to continue advancement of the project in a responsible manner.”

Then Mr. LaPrairie said, “We continue to believe the project will provide significant positive benefits for the province of BC, the Fort Nelson First Nation, and the community of Fort Nelson.”

LaPrairie challenged the FNFN news release remarks attributed to Chief Liz Logan regarding CSI development plans.
He said comments, “Of not following the regulatory process, and attempting to build six mines are entirely false and wrong in fact,” and he added, “Our intention is, and always has been, to build only one mine and to follow all the regulations in place in BC.”

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