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St. Johns Lateral Approved, but Tribal Issues Remain Hot

St. Johns Lateral Approved, but Tribal Issues Remain Hot

For the second time this fall, Canada's National Energy Board served notice it will not halt gas pipeline projects to await resolutions of age-old Indian grievances but it did issue a plea for both sides in a dispute to make peace for the good of all concerned. The signal arrived in an approval of a second Maritimes spur, called the Saint John Lateral, off the new Maritimes & Northeast pipeline. The $62 million lateral is designed to serve domestic customers in New Brunswick along its route to New England from the Sable Offshore Energy Project.

While certain issues remain unresolved, the Union of New Brunswick Indians and Maritimes earlier reached a written memorandum of understanding on native angles to the Saint John Lateral. M&NE plans to craft a route around three areas claimed as especially important to the natives.

In approving the C$93 million St. John's lateral, the board said it "strongly supports M&NE's commitment to dialogue and believes the building of trust and respect between M&NE and the UNBI is more likely to occur if the parties arrive at their own solutions."

The board said the memorandum "provides a means for addressing the UNBI's concerns," at least so far as they directly involve the gas pipeline. Rather than act on protests calling for Canadian federal and provincial government authorities to halt industrial expansion until native rights and compensation for wider claims can be settled, the NEB repeated a message it delivered in a mid-October approval of the first M&NE spur, the Halifax Lateral in Nova Scotia. The NEB suggested the industry is on the right track by working out accommodations to particular projects without being drawn into wider, highly political issues in Atlantic Canada.

The NEB last week also allowed Maritimes to begin operations despite not having received a settlement in the dispute with the Mi'kmaq Indians (see related story this issue). However, the parties are expected to file a settlement this week.

The Mi'kmaq natives, other Indian groups and environmentalists maintain a vital issue of principle is at stake --- plus C$147 million (US$98 million), chiefly in compensation for disturbance of territory even though there has been no settlement or court decision saying the land involved is aboriginal. On the other side, a long lineup of business, labor and provincial government interests backs M&NE's case that the native issue is narrow and should not affect the project.

The case has taken on national dimensions in Canada, where friction is worsening between native communities and governments with industries caught in the middle. The M&NE case has made bedfellows out of even Alliance Pipeline and TransCanada PipeLines, with the arch-rivals both urging the NEB not to set any precedents that could affect relations between their construction or expansion projects and native communities along their routes.

Gordon Jaremko, Calgary

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ISSN © 2577-9877 | ISSN © 1532-1266
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