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Lax Kw'alaams rejects $1 billion bribe from Petronas for LNG plant

"After a week of voting in three different cities, the message from the Lax Kw’alaams Nation to Pacific NorthWest LNG is clear: even $1.15 billion dollars cannot purchase social license.

Malaysian-owned energy company Petronas is in the process of securing permission to build and operate a liquefied natural gas pipeline and terminal near Prince Rupert on the northwestern B.C. coast. While the provincial government is extremely supportive of the project, Petronas has faced challenges convincing First Nations, including the Lax Kw’alaams.

The small 3,600 member band is extremely concerned about the environmental risks of the project, particularly how it would impact Flora Bank on Lelu Island — a thriving habitat for young salmon and the largest eelgrass forests on Canada's west coast.

Hoping to buying consent from the small 3,600 member band, Petronas offered $1.15 billion in cash payments over 40 years, plus a transfer of 2,200 hectares of Crown Land from the B.C. government.

But the Lax Kw’alaams were unmoved. Over a series of three votes, the band voted almost unanimously to reject Petronas’ offer.

“The terminal is planned to be located in the traditional territory of the Lax Kw’alaams. Only Lax Kw’alaams have a valid claim to aboriginal title in the relevant area — their consent is required for this project to proceed. There are suggestions governments and the proponent may try to proceed with the project without consent of the Lax Kw’alaams. That would be unfortunate.” - Mayor Gary Reece

According to Global News, Premier Christy Clark feels an agreement with the Nation will eventually be reached, citing its existing pipeline-benefits agreements with 28 other B.C. First Nations.

While Mayor Reece and the 12 elected councillors of the Lax Kw’alaams make the final decision on Petronas’ proposal, the message from their constituents will be hard to ignore. "

In the meantime, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is expected to decide the fate of the project by October, 2015. If approved, Petronas plans to begin operation in 2019.

Juvenile salmon smolt in Skeena estuary Flor Bank Eel Grass habitat, directly adjacent to proposed Petronas LNG terminal site. Photo: Tavish Campbell.

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