Despite a recent directive from B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office for Coastal GasLink to consult further with First Nations along a stretch of its pipeline route at the heart of the Wet’suwet’en conflict, the company’s work continues along the Morice West Forest Service Road in northern B.C.
The company and its contractors are expanding a worker accommodation camp located about 18 kilometres past the Unist’ot’en healing village.
“I don’t know why they wouldn’t stand down while discussions are being planned here but thus far they’re still out there,” said Na’moks, hereditary chief for the Tsayu clan.
Coastal GasLink remains fully permitted under its B.C. environmental assessment certificate to continue camp construction work in the area.
The company was told recently by the environmental assessment office that it does need to do further consultation work before full construction in the area can be approved.
In a letter, obtained by CBC News, to both sides, the Environmental Assessment Office stated it received feedback from some Indigenous groups and last week determined there are particular issues that still need to be addressed in order for the project to go forward.
The project was previously approved by the province, pending certain conditions.
Last week’s directive from the Environmental Assessment Office does not apply to current camp construction work. In an emailed statement to CBC News, the B.C. Ministry of Environment says the area that includes the work camp “was addressed by the first report for condition #1, which was approved in 2016.”
Coastal GasLink says it doesn’t expect its overall spring construction schedule to be affected by the assessment office’s instructions if its updated report, after additional consultations, is approved.
With Coastal GasLink contractors continuing to move through the area subject to the B.C. Supreme Court injunction, RCMP say police will continue to do patrols to ensure the road remains open, despite calls from the hereditary chiefs to get off the territory.
The situation on the territory has calmed since the RCMP concluded its “major enforcement operations” two weeks ago, but a resolution to the conflict overall remains in limbo.
According to traffic logs from people at the Unist’ot’en checkpoint at the 66-kilometre mark of the forest service road, an average of 40 pickup trucks have been passing every day, along with heavy machinery. Those figures do not include regular patrols by members of the RCMP.
During a media briefing in late January, Coastal GasLink president David Pfeiifer said the main work scheduled to get done in the injunction area in the coming months was to expand an existing worker camp “that would allow us to start the major construction this summer.”
He said the expanded camp would be built to accommodate approximately 500 workers.
Hereditary chiefs say eviction notice still stands
The hereditary chiefs continue to assert that the eviction notice they served to Coastal GasLink in January stands. They want the company and RCMP off the territory, saying they have not given their consent to have a pipeline built through the area.
The chiefs are still calling for a face-to-face meeting with decision makers from the provincial and federal governments to discuss rights and title on the territory.
Na’moks told CBC News on Monday that the chiefs anticipate meetings with the provincial and federal governments will be scheduled sometime this week, and said they were also expecting to schedule a meeting with RCMP.
The RCMP has reduced its footprint on the territory and shuttered its remote detachment that was set up on the forest service road in January 2019. The detachment, located 29 kilometres down the forest service road, served as a base for around 20 officers.
Police are now operating out of the Houston detachment, about 40 minutes away.
In a statement to CBC News, RCMP Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet wrote that talks are taking place between the hereditary chiefs, Commanding Officer of the B.C. RCMP Jennifer Strachan and Asst. Commissioner Eric Stubbs.
“Out of respect for the discussions, and the trust being sought by all, we don’t wish to speak about any of the specifics at this time,” she wrote.
The $6-billion, 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline has received approval from the province, and 20 First Nations band councils have signed agreements in support of the project, including five of the six band councils in the Wet’suwet’en nation.
However, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say those band councils are only responsible for the territory within their individual reserves because their authority comes only from the Indian Act. The hereditary chiefs — who are the leaders of the nation’s governance system in place before the imposition of the Indian Act — assert authority over 22,000 square kilometres of the nation’s traditional territory, an area recognized as unceded by the Supreme Court of Canada in a 1997 decision.