Canadian Manufacturing

First Nations offered billions of dollars to support pipeline projects

The deals aimed at wooing First Nations include signing bonuses, yearly payments and land allotments

PRINCE RUPERT, B.C.—A $1.15-billion benefits’ package is being offered to a First Nation on British Columbia’s northwest coast in a bid to win support for a proposed liquefied-natural-gas terminal and pipeline.

Details of the offer to the Lax Kw’alaams from the provincial government and project owners, including Malaysia’s Petronas, were published on the band’s website.

The deal is not the only one being pursued with aboriginals in advance of regulatory approval.

One week ago, TransCanada, the company that plans to build the 950-kilometre pipeline from near Hudson’s Hope in northeastern B.C. to Prince Rupert on the coast, announced a deal with the Kitselas First Nation.

“Our government has been very clear that for too long First Nations have been excluded from economic development and that needs to change,” said the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation in an email on Friday.

An information bulletin published on the Lax Kw’alaams’ website notes the proposal includes $27.8 million for signing and preliminary agreements, construction and startup projects.

Annual payments would start at nearly $13 million and end with $50.5 million in year 40, for a total of just over $1 billion, it adds.

The band would receive 2,200 hectares of land, worth about $108 million, in the Prince Rupert harbour area, as well as “additional lands of interest.”

Targeted funds of nearly $29 million would cover road paving, compensation for fisheries, scholarships and training programs.

The deal also promises vacant jobs in the “commercial operations phase” to every Tsimshian person who has completed a training program, meets “ordinary job requirements,” and is “otherwise qualified for the job.”

Band leaders will ask members to support the projects during upcoming votes in Lax Kw’alaams, Prince Rupert and Vancouver.

“The province is working with more than 40 First Nations to discuss benefits, concerns and the engagement process on proposed natural-gas pipelines and LNG-related infrastructure within their traditional territory,” said the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. “Proponents are also engaging with First Nations through similar discussions.”

The ministry said it has, to date, concluded talks with 27 First Nations on 54 agreements on natural gas pipelines, and it expects more, although the details will vary.

Pacific NorthWest LNG, a majority of which is owned by Petronas, plans to build an export terminal on Lelu Island, near Prince Rupert.

“If the project is constructed, Lelu Island will be effectively off bounds to Lax Kw’alaams’ members as the island will be largely cleared,” states a community backgrounder.

Community members won’t be able to harvest traditional plants and medicines, and as many as 431 culturally modified trees could be destroyed, the document adds.

About 120 kilometres of the pipeline would rest on the seabed, which, the document states, could negatively impact fish and their habitat, alter access to traditional fishing grounds and contaminate seafood through dredging.

TransCanada said Friday it expects B.C.’s oil and gas commission to decide soon on two pipeline projects the company wants to build.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada reports the Lax Kw’alaams have a total population of 3,351 people, of which 817 live on reserve.

_ by Keven Drews in Vancouver

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