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Decision reserved on Alton Gas injunction against protesters


Alton Gas says Rachael Greenland-Smith and Dale Andrew Poulette are trespassing on the company’s property near Fort Ellis, Colchester County. Greenland-Smith and Poulette stand outside Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Tuesday with Poulette’s father, Andrew Lafford. - Francis Campbell
Alton Gas says Rachael Greenland-Smith and Dale Andrew Poulette are trespassing on the company’s property near Fort Ellis, Colchester County. Greenland-Smith and Poulette stand outside Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Tuesday with Poulette’s father, Andrew Lafford. - Francis Campbell

Dale Andrew Poulette can remain in his provisional Colchester County home for the time being.

A Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice reserved decision Tuesday on an application by Alton Gas for a temporary injunction against Poulette and Rachael Greenland-Smith, longtime protesters of the company’s proposed underground gas storage project.

“Both sides got heard and I thought we made our arguments and I feel happy about how it went,” said James Gunvaldsen Klassen, an Ecojustice lawyer who represented the respondents.

Alton lawyer Rob Grant argued that Poulette and Greenland-Smith have been trespassing on Alton property near Fort Ellis. He said the company has owned the property since 2008 and has built a pump house, a computer control centre, ponds, pipes and a mixing channel there.

The company proposes to run a brining operation at the site, releasing the dissolved salt flushed out of the cavern site 12 kilometres away into the Shubenacadie River estuary with a gradual discharge of 1.3 million cubic metres of salt over a two- to three-year period. The project would draw some 10,000 cubic metres of water daily from the estuary and push it through a pipeline to the 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.

Grant argued that Poulette and other protesters have build structures on the Alton property, including a straw-bale hut that blocks the main entrance.

“Reliable access,” Grant said, answering his own question about why the injunction is necessary.

Grant said there have been repeated incidents of the protesters, particulary Poulette, impeding company personnel from accessing the site and causing irreparable harm in not allowing the property owner to repair equipment and do other work.

That included a complaint from Robert Turner, a company manager, who said that during an October visit to the property, Poulette confronted him, physically tried to stop him and pushed his chest into Turner.

Grant said Poulette used profanity and tried to intimidate Turner and others.

He described another incident in which Turner and a Nova Scotia Power employee had gone on to the property to deal with a power outage and returning to the gate, Turner knocked on Poulette’s door. He didn’t answer but videotaped Turner from inside and in a profanity-laced response told Turner that if he wanted to enter the property again, he would need an injunction to get past Poulette.

“It is no accident that we are here, we are here because Mr. Poulette directed us to be here,” to gain access to the property, Grant said.

Grant said it’s a simple case of trespassing and it’s “not about the brine facility, not about consultation and not about enforcement of treaty rights.”

Alton Gas plans to pump water from the Shubenacadie River undergound to flush out salt and create caverns for gas storage. - File
Alton Gas plans to pump water from the Shubenacadie River undergound to flush out salt and create caverns for gas storage. - File

Grant said the company has all the legal permits required to use the property and operate a brine release system on the site. He said Poulette is not authorized on his own to assert the treaty rights of the Sipekne’katik band, of which Poulette is not a member.

When it was his turn, Gunvaldsen Klassen argued that Indigenous rights are not always collective and can be exercised by one person on behalf of the collective, as is the case with Poulette.

Gunvaldsen Klassen told the hearing, which had been moved to a larger courtroom at the downtown Halifax law courts to accommodate about 50 anxious supporters of Poulette and Greenland-Smith, that the brining operation is not in compliance with the federal Fisheries Act and that Poulette, asked by his adopted community to protect the water, has been engaged in a peaceful protest.

“It is not shy, but it is peaceful,” Gunvaldsen Klassen said. “The respondents are not trespassing, they are water protectors. ... It’s not against the law to swear. It’s not the same as a blockade with guns.”

Gunvaldsen Klassen said the company can access the property any time it wants by following an agreed-upon protocol of co-operating with the protesters.

He said the way the injunction is worded, even if successful, it would only prevent Poulette and Greenland-Smith from interfering with the company, not result in their eviction.

Gunvaldsen Klassen said the company did not come to the proceeding with “clean hands,” because the brining operation it proposes on the site is illegal.

The federal government announced recently that it was moving in to regulate the project and a spokeswoman for the federal Environment Department said it is developing federal regulations under the Fisheries Act to set controls for brine release.

This week, the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board approved an application from Alton for a construction extension at the underground cavern site. That permit was first granted on Sept. 4, 2013, and the extension will run for five years until September 2023.

Justice Gerald Moir will hand down his decision on the temporary injunction on March 18. The temporary injunction is part of a larger proceeding that will include a hearing for a permanent injunction on April 4.

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