Dale Andrew Poulette and Rachael Greenland-Smith left court quietly after being ordered Monday by a Supreme Court justice to move their protest away from the front gate of the Alton Gas site in Colchester County.
Their supporters made a lot more noise outside the Law Courts in downtown Halifax.
“We’re not defeated,” Michelle Paul told a group of about 100. “We are not done here. We are not going to let that brine go into the river.”
The group then marched to the provincial Environment Department office on Barrington Street.
Poulette has been camped out at or near Alton’s riverside property for nearly three years, standing guard by the Shubenacadie River estuary against a project that he and other Mi’kmaq activists say will pollute the river.
“There is no basis in law for the occupation,” Justice Gerald Moir said in granting a temporary injunction.
“In my assessment, irreparable harm is established by the evidence of threats,” the judge said after taking his courtroom audience through a recent chronological history of the proposed Alton project.
Judge: “threats uttered to make employees fearful”
He began with Alton’s acquisition of the 16-hectare Riverside Road property near Fort Ellis and an 80-hecatare property 12 kilometres away on Brentwood Road.
The “solution mining” project is designed to draw nearly 10,000 cubic metres of water daily from river estuary and propel it by pipeline to a cavern site off Brentwood Road, near Alton. There, the water will be pumped nearly 1,000 metres underground to flush out salt to create two caverns with a combined storage capacity of about four billion cubic feet of natural gas. The brine created by the salt dissolution will then be pumped back to a mixing pond at the estuary before being released into the river system, a gradual discharge of 1.3 million cubic metres of salt over a two- to three-year period.
Moir said a long roadway leads to a pump building and a control building near the river at the Alton site in question. There is a guardhouse at the entrance. The pump building is massive, with two pumps set at the subsurface, and pipelines going to the river site and to cavern site, Moir said.
“These facilities cost about $3 million to construct,” Moir said, and they are “built in compliance with regulatory approval.”
Moir said there is no suggestion that Poulette speaks for the Sipekne’katik Band, many of whose members live in nearby Indian Brook, nor its chief nor its council.
“He asserts what may be an ancient authority, requests from elders of the community,” Moir said.
Moir said that in 2017, Poulette and his supporters built a camp in front of the guardhouse, including a hut made primarily of straw bales. He said Poulette stayed their full-time and his life partner, Greenland-Smith, helped build the camp. Both have been very vocal in opposition to the Alton plan.
The judge recounted unpleasant interactions between Poulette and company officials, several of which were videotaped by Poulette.
“Using violently obscene language, Mr. Poulette told Alton to get an injunction,” he said of an encounter last March. “ He ordered Alton’s people off the property and he made threats.
One threat Moir provided was this from Poulette: “I hope you guys have First Aid training.”
A month ago, Alton manager Rob Turner went to the site to deal with an electrical problem that had shut down some of the equipment.
“Throughout, Mr. Turner attempted to be diplomatic,” the judge said. “Mr. Poulette’s tone and words were menacing and obscene.”
The judge said Poulette once made reference to knowing where Alton company employees lived.
“Those are threats uttered to make employees fearful at their place of work and, shamefully, in their homes,” the judge said.
He said the evidence is that the threats were made to deny company access to the site. Alton had argued that damage to expensive equipment required site access for repairs to prevent further losses, access that was impeded by Poulette.
The judge said Alton will provide protesters a designated area at the site where they can gather and be seen by the public.
Protest on the move
“The main part of the injunction should be to clarify, to show that Mr. Poulette, Ms. Greeland-Smith and others and their belongings are confined to the area permitted by Alton,” Moir said. Neither James Gunvaldsen Klassen, the Ecojustice lawyer representing Poulette and Greenland-Smith, nor the company, in a statement verified the size or location of the designated area.
“I’m disappointed but the court has spoken and we will take it from here,” Gunvaldsen Klassen said outside court.
The company said in its statement the court decision is welcomed.
“The safety of the site is our focus, and our intention is to access the site as soon as practicable to repair damaged electrical systems and equipment,” the statement said.
“Our commitment remains to continue working with Mi’kmaq communities, area residents, partners and government to develop this important infrastructure project responsibly, which will provide Nova Scotians with cleaner, affordable and reliable energy year-round.”
The company said it has already completed two environmental assessments of the Alton project.
Poulette didn’t comment at the courthouse but said via Facebook that the company’s industrial approval is not valid because the company did not meet the condition of providing a monitoring plan that included Environment Canada, the regulatory body.
“Had this condition been fulfilled, the province and Alton Gas would have recognized the project would be in violation of the (federal) Fisheries Act and would not have been granted the industrial approval. To date, the company does not have an approval because of the notice of Intent by (the federal Environment Department).”
That notice of intent from the federal department says its objective is to manage the risk of potential threats to fish, fish habitat and human health from fish consumption by establishing conditions for any brine release.
The company and respondents will be back at the province’s top court on April 4 to set dates for a hearing on a permanent injunction.
“Perhaps the situation will change when the application for a final injunction is heard, but in this present motion, there is no evidence to support the occupation of Fort Ellis lands by Mr. Poulette, Ms Greenland-Smith or others,” Moir said in court.
Gunvaldsen Klassen said he did not want to guess what the judge meant by a possible change.
“What I understood the court to be saying was that more evidence could be led that would change the complexion of things.”
It wasn’t clear how much time Poulette and Greeland-Smith would be given to move away from the entrance to the site and what provisions would be made for moving or dismantling the structures they had built there.