Chief writes ENR minister over Teck oilsands project

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A vocal opponent of Teck Resources’ proposed Frontier oil sands project in northern Alberta is calling on the territorial government to support his community’s opposition to the $20.6 billion mine.

Gerry Cheezie, chief of Smith’s Landing First Nation which lies just south of the NWT border in Alberta, has taken aim at the GNWT for not being adequately aware of the possible effects of Frontier.

The proposed Frontier scheme could mine up to 260,000 barrels per day of bitumen from an area south of Fort Chipewyan, and west of the Athabasca River. It would be located just south of Wood Buffalo National Park.

Gerry Cheezie, chief of Smith’s Landing First Nation points to a map on showing areas of his community’s traditional territory at risk of downstream pollution from the proposed Frontier oil sands mine of Teck Resources. Blair McBride/NNSL photo

The proposed Frontier project could mine up to 260,000 barrels per day of bitumen from an area south of Fort Chipewyan, and west of the Athabasca River. It would also be located just east of Wood Buffalo National Park.

According to Teck, the $20.5 billion project would last 41 years and employ 7,000 people during the construction phase and 2,500 in direct operational jobs.

Fourteen First Nation and Metis communities in northern Alberta have signed benefits agreements with Teck.

But others, like Cheezie, the NWT Metis Nation and the K’atl’odeeche First Nation near Hay River have raised concerns about pollution from the mine entering the Athabasca River and flowing into the Slave River and Great Slave Lake. Smith’s Landing sits beside the Slave River. In a Jan. 29 letter to Shane Thompson, minister of Environment and Natural Resources (see page 7), Cheezie asked that he support Smith’s Landing in protecting the First Nation’s territorial and treaty rights and the lands, waters and people of the NWT.

“It has been Smith’s Landing First Nation’s experience to be unjustifiably ignored by proponents and the Crown with respect to development occurring in our territory resulting in adverse, direct, indirect and cumulative impacts on our treaty rights. This project is no exception,” Cheezie wrote.

“Both Teck and the provincial Crown maintain that Smith’s Landing is not impacted by the project and as such, consultation is not required based on the false assumption that we are located too far north of the project.”

The chief went on to say the Crown consultation team treated the consultation process as a way for his community to “blow off steam” instead of share information and that it undervalued Smith’s Landing’s concerns over water and caribou and the project’s effects on treaty rights.

In response to a News/North request for comment on the environmental implications of the Teck project, ENR spokesperson Joslyn Oosenbrug said the Alberta-NWT Transboundary Agreement on water, signed in 2015, provides agreed safeguards on water quality.

“The GNWT and Alberta have jointly developed a system of triggers to protect our water and tell us if there is change happening in Alberta before it’s happening in the NWT. This, along with upstream monitoring in Alberta, will give us an early warning of change and an opportunity for effects to be mitigated before they occur at the border.”

Thompson, speaking in the legislative assembly on Feb. 7, said he had spoken with Cheezie about Frontier and added that he planned to speak with the Alberta government to “emphasize their commitment under the Alberta-NWT bilateral agreement” on water quality in waters flowing into the territory.

However, Thompson wouldn’t take a position.

“I know that politicians are supposed to take stances on things,” said Thompson. “It is easier when you are on the other side to do it. Right now, what I am trying to do is work with the Government of Alberta to do what is right to actually implement the transboundary water agreement. That is what I am working on. I don’t want to get up here and say, ‘Here, I’m greatly standing against it or supporting it.’

“What I am trying to do right now is work with the Alberta government to make sure that the quality of water coming out is good for our people.

“If it isn’t, that’s when we come out and work again.”

The federal cabinet is due to make a decision on the Frontier project by the end of February, though it’s possible that decision could be delayed.

But even if the cabinet approves the mine, Teck’s chief executive officer Don Lindsey has questioned if Frontier is ready to go ahead because of the “three P’s” that are currently not in place: a pipeline to move the oil, favourable oil prices and joint-venture partners.

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