The Coastal GasLink Pipeline project involves the construction and operation of an approximately 650-km natural gas pipeline from near Dawson Creek to near Kitimat. (TransCanada image)

Witset votes to keep agreement for Coastal GasLink pipeline

Witset said it will receive $55.4 million in payments over the life of the project.

Witset First Nation council voted in favour of signing an agreement with TransCanada for its Coastal GasLink LNG pipeline at a special meeting on April 30.

The proposed pipeline project would be 670 km in length. The pipeline would deliver natural gas from Dawson Creek to a facility in Kitimat for export by LNG Canada, passing well south of the Bulkley Valley but within Wet’suwet’en territory.

Sixty-seven per cent of council voted in favour of signing the agreement. The vote was conducted by secret ballot and counted by the council’s auditor.

Witset owned companies Kyah Resources Inc. and Kyah Summit Camp Services Ltd. are expected to be involved in right-of-way clearing and camp service, according to a press release from Witset Band. The projects is expected to offer employment opportunities during construction and the council said in the release it will participate in monitoring the project as it proceeds.

READ MORE: Coastal GasLink awards $620 million in contracting opportunities to First Nations

“People think these projects line the pockets of council members,” Witset chief Victor Jim said in the press release. “That’s just not true.”

Requests over the last several weeks for an interview with Jim on the topic have not been returned as of Monday’s press time.

Witset signed a benefits agreement with the province for Coastal GasLink and Pacific Trail Pipeline projects in 2015 but following community outrage scheduled another vote on the matter.

Witset will receive $55.4 million in payments over the life of the projects.

Through a pipeline benefits agreement signed with the Province in January 2015 for TransCanada’s proposed Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline project, Witset will receive approximately $6 million as project milestones are reached: $998,000 upon the agreement coming into effect, $2.49 million when construction begins, and $2.49 million once the pipeline is operating. That does not include the financial agreement with the company.

Witset was the 16th and final First Nation or Band to join the First Nations Limited Partnership, which would share in $32 million in benefits once construction has started on the Pacific Trail Pipeline (PTP).

Witset has about 1,800 members.

The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have come out against the natural gas pipelines. The Unitot’en camp set up south of Houston along the Morice River originally to block an Enbridge oil pipeline is now filled with people determined to stop any LNG pipeline.

A press release from the communications coordinator for Witset with the headline ‘Coastal Gaslink Vote Exposes Traditional and Modern Thinking in Witset Members’ said the following:

“Politics can be a deeply divisive business in any group of people. The Witsuwit’en are no different.”

It then explained the vote result.

“Bear in mind that the Council is comprised entirely of elected officials, who typically think in modern terms. From their perspective, the money awarded through this renewed contract will help modernize the village with paved roads, better housing, and of course, jobs. The Council is thinking of the best interests of the community.”

It went on to acknowledge benefits and divisiveness brought on by the decision:

“According to Chief Jim, there was in the contract a promise of a Language and Culture Centre. He feels that the best way to move our people forward to learning their language fluently is to immerse them in more opportunities to hear and speak Witsuwit’en. In 2018, the village has seen a rise in the number of people taking language courses: Council wants to build on that momentum.

“On the other hand, the Witsuwit’en have been fortunate to retain their hereditary chiefs, who are more traditional in their thinking. Anything that threatens the health of the land, the air or the water, or any of the creatures therein, is unwelcome. This includes pipelines.

“While this topic is divisive, the members continue to work well together, building strong community when it matters. Their feast system is a model of unity. Everyone is working in the best interest of the village, regardless of how they view the Coastal Gaslink project.”

It listed other benefits first outlined in 2015 through the two LNG agreements, First Nations Limited Partnership and the Coastal GasLink Pipeline Benefits Agreement:

Priority access to contracting opportunities estimated at $20 million, including logging and clearing, access road construction, upgrading and restoration, right-of-way and pipeline valve site restoration, preparation of work camps and stockpile sites, and security services for stockpile sites.

• Joint venture partnership with Somerville-Aecon through FNLP, who will be constructing a portion of PTP and distributing a portion of profits among FNLP member nations.

• Direct access to PTP training and employment opportunities through the PTP Aboriginal Skills to Employment Partnership.

• PTP ASEP training programs include skills assessment and development, competency testing, training and accreditation in heavy equipment operating, welding, electrical, pipefitting, construction trades, truck driving, carpentry, cement finishing and masonry, mill wrighting, environmental technician training and environmental monitoring, and camp operations management.

Additional benefits to Witset from the 2015 deal include the following:

The Province provides $1.8 million as part of a Reconciliation Agreement to help fund social programs and will initiate a government-to-government relationship with Witset.

The Province also provides an additional 37,000 cubic metres of forested land to support the success of local forest products company Kyahwood, bringing the total Witset timber supply to 100,000 cubic metres. As well, the Province makes payments to Witset of $150,000 and match funds for job training up to $100,000.

• The Province and PTP will establish an Environmental and Cultural Accord to ensure the PTP meets all 43 Environmental Assessment Certificate conditions related to Wet’suwet’en territory. As well, the Accord calls for Witsuwit’en involvement in the preparation of an Environmental Stewardship Plan, a Restoration Plan, and an Access Management Plan, including an assessment of the protection and preservation of the Burnie Shea Protected Areas. A Carbon Management Plan and an Atmospheric Benefits Agreement will be implemented to manage the greenhouse gas impacts of the project.

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