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Alton protestors say they are being treated unfairly

Alton Gas has posted signs outside the Treaty Camp near the Shubenacadie River in Fort Ellis naming "water protectors" on the site as trespassers and criminals, a Mi'kmaq group says.
Alton Gas has posted signs outside the Treaty Camp near the Shubenacadie River in Fort Ellis naming naming "water protectors" on the site as trespassers and criminals, a Mi'kmaq group says.

FORT ELLIS, N.S. – Mi’kmaq protestors of the Alton Natural Gas Storage Project say they are being treated as “trespassers and criminals” because of their efforts to protect the Shubenacadie River from the potential of salt pollution.

For the past nine months, protestors identifying themselves as “water protectors,” have been occupying the Fort Ellis site where the company plans to release salt brine into the Shubenacadie estuary if the project is granted final approval.

The group has built a small shelter called Treaty House at the entrance to the property and members have been staying in the building on a rotating basis.

After “no trespassing” signs were posted at the site, however, the group issued a news release saying it is “outraged by Alton Gas’ bully tactics” and the company’s intent to resume work on the project without allowing the Sipekne’katik Band to complete its community consultation process.

“This camp is peaceful, and principled,” grassroots grandmother water protector, Dorene Bernard, said in the release.

“We’re here as Mi’kmaq and treaty rights holders to defend our right to this river and this place. Defending this right is our responsibility. Alton Gas is trying to paint us as criminal for protecting our treaty rights and doing our sacred duty to protect our unceded lands and waters,” she said.

In response to the group’s release, company spokeswoman Lori MacLean said there is equipment and information signage that must be checked and maintained and last week an Alton staff member and contractors visited the river site briefly to replace signage.

“We respect the rights of individuals to express their views peacefully, however, the Alton river site is open only to Alton staff and to approved contractors,” MacLean said.

To date $69 million has been invested on the initiative, which is projected to cost more than $130 million. And since 2014, she said, more than 70 Nova Scotia companies have provided goods, services and labour to Alton project.

Since 2006, MacLean said, Alton has been meeting with stakeholders including landowners, community members, government and the Mi’kmaq to share information and exchange viewpoints. The project has also received all environmental and industrial approvals for construction, which came as the result of two environmental assessments, nearly 10 years of scientific monitoring of the tidal Shubenacadie River estuary, as well as an independent third-party science review led by the Mi’kmaq, she said.

Bernard, however, said the Sipekne’katik Band has been developing its own consultation process on the basis of telling Canada “how we will be consulted, and not have that dictated for us.”

The Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative (established in 2004 on behalf of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs as a means for meaningful and productive consultations on a number of projects in diverse fields) does not represent Sipekne’katik, Bernard said.

The Alton project proposes to create two underground salt caverns by solution mining an existing salt deposit, pumping the salt brine in the Shubenacadie River and storing natural gas into the resulting caverns.

MacLean said brining is slated to begin in 2018 and “we’ll ensure we are meeting all regulatory and permitting requirements before work begins. We’ll also be continuing stakeholder discussions and community engagement,” she said.

The group said it is calling on the government of Nova Scotia to stop Alton Gas from proceeding with the project while Sipekne’katik completes its consultation process.

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