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Luutkudziiwus launch B.C. Supreme Court challenge to pipeline

A proposed pipeline that would feed natural gas into B.C.’s most promising LNG project is facing a legal hurdle from a First Nations group.

The Luutkudziiwus, a 600-member house of the Gitxsan Nation, plans to file a judicial review in B.C. Supreme Court challenging regulatory permits issued for the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline, a 900-kilometre line that would stretch from Hudson’s Hope in northeast B.C. to the Pacific Northwest LNG plant proposed for Lelu Island on the north coast by an international consortium led by Malaysian energy giant Petronas.

But the pipeline’s route will also cross 34 kilometres of the Luutkudziiwus’ traditional territory known as the Madii Lii and carries what the Gitxsan house believes could be a significant environemntal risk.

“You have to look at if your land can even accommodate something of the magnitude of this pipeline,” said Luutkudziiwus spokesman Richard Wright in Vancouver on Tuesday.

Wright had made the 15-hour drive from his hometown to Vancouver to speak at a rally outside an international LNG conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre Wednesday. Premier Christy Clark, cabinet ministers and industry bigwigs are expected to attend the three-day conference. Other First Nations and environmental groups will protest outside.

Wright said the pipeline project by Alberta-based TransCanada poses a threat to wildlife on their land, where populations of moose, deer and caribou have dwindled.

The Lelu Island export terminal, if built, also threatens the ecologically-sensitive Flora Bank where eelgrass shelters juvenile salmon. The terminal won’t be built on Luutkudziiwus land but the destruction of that habitat would decimate salmon runs in the Skeena River watershed in their territory.

The Luutkudziiwus has been cut out of the loop, added Wright.

Pipeline proponents have been dealing with the Gitxsan Treaty Society and the Gitxsan Development Corporation but neither entity represent the Luutkudziiwus and other house groups. “They’re dealing with the wrong people,” he said. “The house groups need to be consulted because they’re the one that ultimately owns the land.”

Under Gitxsan tradition, each of the 62 houses is responsible for managing their own land and resources. The Luutkudziiwus is one of the largest houses that make up the 14,000-strong Gitxsan Nation.

The judicial review, which will be backed by affidavits from other Gitxsan house chiefs, will ask the court to void the project’s environmental assessment certificate granted in November and the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission permits to construct and operate the pipeline.

TransCanada spokesman Davis Sheremata said the project is still awaiting necessary permits. To date, it has signed agreements with eight First Nations groups and the consultation process remains ongoing.

Sheremata referred inquiries on the impending court challenge to the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission which did not return a request for comment on Tuesday.

The LNG project is already facing opposition on other fronts amid concerns B.C. is coming in too late to the global race to supply liquefied natural gas.

The Lax Kw’alaams has voted to reject a $1-billion deal over 40 years in exchange for consent to the Pacific Northwest LNG plant, widely viewed as the front-runner in B.C.’s nascent LNG industry. The band has also announced it is pursuing title action on Lelu Island and Flora Bank. Lax Kw’alaams members are expected at today’s rally.

The Treaty 8 First Nations have filed a judicial review challenging the federal government’s approval of the North Montney Mainline pipeline project. That pipeline would connect to the proposed Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline.

In addition to the legal challenge, Luutkudziiwus members have erected a gate and a camp at the entrance of their territory last August, effectively blocking access to their land by any pipeline workers.

More media coverage of our court challenge:

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