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Community concerns must be addressed before Alton Natural Gas Storage project can proceed to next stage

FORT ELLIS – Plans by the Alton Natural Gas Storage project to break through the dike on the Shubenacadie River estuary cannot proceed until an agreement can be worked out with the aboriginal community, a provincial official says.

Property boundary for Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and Alton Gas

“They have to get the Mi’kmaq Nation onside for this and take all of their concerns into consideration,” Nova Scotia Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell told the Truro Daily News.

“They have to satisfy us (and the departments of Natural Resources and Environment) before they can go forward.”

Contrary to some reports, however, no official stop-work orders have been issued against the company.

And Alton Natural Gas president David Birkett, said even if departmental approval was granted immediately, his company does not wish to proceed with plans to breach the dike until the concerns expressed by the native community have been resolved.

“Basically we need an agreement with agriculture that’s all worked out to break through the dike, or to do the work on the dike or the river, and we don’t have it in place as of today,” he said, earlier this week.

“Obviously we are working on it,” he said, of the effort to reach an agreement with Mi’kmaq community.

But Birkett said nothing about the situation has changed in the past four weeks and “nobody has issued any stop stuff.”

Nonetheless, he said, “even if they issued us that license, we probably wouldn’t be working until that’s resolved.”

Alton Natural Gas is involved in a $110-million project that proposes creating three natural gas storage facilities from underground salt caverns in the Alton area.

The project includes two, 12-km underground pipelines running from the mine sites to storage ponds being created beside the Shubenacadie River estuary. The pipelines are to be used to carry salt brine from the caverns to the storage ponds for eventual disbursement into the river system.

That has prompted opposition and public protests from the Mi’kmaq community as well as non-native residents and area fishermen and fishing associations over fear of harming the eco system and fish stocks in the river.

The company has created an engineered canal system between the river and the dike that is designed to serve as a channel that will allow the brine to be released with the tidal flows.

But it needs permission from the Department of Agriculture before it can proceed with work on the dike, as well as a coastal permit from Natural Resources and industrial approval from the Department of Environment before the project can proceed any further.

Colwell said was recently brought to his attention that the company had begun efforts towards the breaching of the dike. But he said the company was “advised” it could not do any further work on the dike until the Mi’kmaq concerns were settled. Any damage to the dike must also be corrected in advance of further approvals.

“They’re not allowed on the Crown land to do anymore work on that site until we give them approval to just repair the dike, which we will probably do,” Colwell said. “We have to do that in consultation with the Mi’kmaq.”

Colwell said he also believes that overall “it is a good project they have, but they’ve gotta make sure they have all approvals in place before they proceed.”

Birkett said his company agrees that community concerns must be addressed.

“And quite frankly it’s an approach we’ve all picked,” he said.


Twitter: @tdnharry



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