Press releases fly in North Coast LNG dispute over Lelu Island

Five First Nation leaders on B.C.'s North Coast are firing back at a group calling for the "permanent protection" of Lelu Island from a liquefied natural gas plant, saying they weren't consulted on a recent broadside against LNG development in the region.

Five leaders of the Tsimshian Nations, located near Prince Rupert, issued a press release Monday saying they were left in the dark on the Lelu Island Declaration, signed at a summit on LNG and salmon habitat over the weekend.

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The signatories of that declaration believe Petronas's proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal, a multi-billion dollar project that would process natural gas from Progress Energy holdings in the North Peace, poses an unacceptable risk to the Skeena River salmon fishery.

"It came as a bit of a surprise," said Kitselas Chief Joe Bevan of the declaration.

Bevan did not attend the Salmon Nation Summit, held Jan 22-23 in Prince Rupert.

"They had requested we attend," he said. "They didn't tell us they were going to be signing some declaration of this kind. There was no notice, no nothing, they said they were just out to provide information."

Signing the declaration were hereditary leaders of the Gitxsan, Wet'suwet'en, Lake Babine and Haisla First Nations, as well as Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, NDP MLAs Jennifer Rice, Doug Donaldson and Robin Austin, and NDP MP Nathan Cullen. Nine tribes of the Lax Kw'alaams, a member group of the Tsimshian, also signed the document.

A day after news of the declaration for "permanent protection" of Lelu Island broke, the five Tsimshian leaders issued their own release saying the decision was made without their support.

Bevan said the Kitselas have entered into early agreements with Petronas, but are carrying out their own research on the project's impact on fisheries through the Tsimshian Environmental Stewardship Authority.

He was "extremely disappointed" with the elected officials' decision to take sides.

"We are the titleholders of the land: don't you think it would be wise to talk to (us) before jumping out and making your own decision?" he said. "Do this smartly. Don't get under the pressure of all the...people who think one way or another (the LNG plant) is going to start killing fish."

The Tsimshian Nation includes seven bands, one of which is the Lax Kw'alaams, which last year rejected a billion-dollar agreement with Petronas over the project location.

Donnie Wesley, a Lax Kw'alaams hereditary chief, represents the Gitwilgyoots tribe, one of the nine "allied" tribes that has been occupying Lelu Island since August.

They fear the plant, particularly a suspension bridge to carry a pipeline to Lelu Island, will damage eelgrass beds vital for salmon spawning. Wesley said Lax Kw'alaams would bear a disproportionate risk if the plant moves forward.

"All these villages have signed on with the LNG companies here and they've got a vested stake in the matter," he said of the release from the five leaders. "Saying that, they are meddling in somebody else's backyard where they shouldn't be."

Bevan said the group should have waited until the release of the Tsimshian's independent environmental assessment, expected in the coming weeks.

"We've been at odds for some time, because we were saying 'hey, let us do our due diligence, and let us give a balanced approach to this,'" he said. "We have to give all of the information, not just some of the information as it pertains to (their) cause."

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