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Deh Cho First Nations firm on demands before it will allow Mackenzie pipeline to cross land

Deh Cho First Nations firm on demands before it will allow pipeline to cross land

Roxanna Thompson and Guy Quenneville
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, January 7, 2010

DEH CHO - The Dehcho First Nations has identified several areas of concern within the long-awaited report from the Joint Review Panel on the potential environmental and socio-economic impacts of the Mackenzie Gas Project.

The panel released the report on Dec. 30, more than four years late. The report's title "Foundation for a Sustainable Northern Future" reflects its positive review of the project.

"The panel is confident that the project as filled, if built and operated with full implementation of the panel's recommendations, would deliver valuable and lasting overall benefits, and avoid significant adverse environmental impacts," reads the preface of the 679-page report, released online on the panel's website.

In total, the panel made 176 recommendations for the implementation of the pipeline. The Dehcho First Nations' (DFN) concerns with the report stem from the recommendations that directly effect it.

The approval of the Dehcho Land Use Plan is the first sticking point Grand Chief Samuel Gargan points out. DFN's stance is that the plan should be implemented before the federal government considers allowing the pipeline to be built. The report falls short of DFN's ideal.

The panel recommends that no regulatory agency issue authorization for an activity or a facility in the Dehcho region that would allow the capacity of the pipeline to increase above 1.2 billion cubic feet (BCF) per day. The pipeline is designed to handle a maximum capacity of 1.8 BCF.

The recommendation is after the fact because it allows the pipeline to be built before the Dehcho Land Use Plan is in place, said Gargan.

DFN has a similar problem with another recommendation stating proponents and DFN make their best efforts to finalize a benefits agreement at least six months prior to the commencement of construction in the Deh Cho region. If the timeline is too short the recommendation goes on to say the proponents should negotiate infrastructure and construction set-aside contracts with DFN business entities prior to construction in the Deh Cho.

DFN wants to have the benefits agreements in place with Imperial Oil before the project is allowed to proceed, said Gargan.

DFN is hopeful a third recommendation related to harvesters will be carried out. It recommends proponents provide harvest compensation agreements to the three settlement areas in the pipeline's right-of-way and with the Deh Cho and that those negotiations are concluded before construction begins.

Including harvesters' compensation in the access and benefits agreement has been a point of contention between DFN and Imperial Oil and is partially responsible for the breakdown in negotiations between the two parties, Gargan said.

"If this component is fulfilled the harvesters will probably approve of the project," he said.

DFN plans to release its official response to the review following its winter leadership meeting in February. Gargan expects to raise some of the issues related to the report at the Dene Nation leadership meeting scheduled for Jan. 18 to 22 in Fort Simpson.

For now, DFN's official response to the project is guided by a resolution that was passed in Wrigley in August 2001. The resolution states that DFN will consider supporting the pipeline once it has reached an agreement with Canada on sharing revenues and royalties from the development of oil and gas reserves in the region. Also, harvesters must support pipeline construction and DFN must be fully involved in any environmental approval. Agreements would also have to be reached on impact benefits and access fees for use of land for the pipeline right-of-way.

A new resolution could be passed at the winter leadership meeting to replace the nine-year-old decision, Gargan said.

"We'll have to wait and see what the leadership decides when we meet," he said.

Overall Gargan said he was impressed by the way the Joint Review Panel addressed every detail relating to the pipeline.

"The JRP has done a thorough job," he said.

Initial reactions from other groups to the report's release and the panel's enthusiasm for the pipeline have been positive.

"It's important to read the details of the conditions set out, but initially I would say I'm very pleased with the news," said Fred Carmichael, chair of the Aboriginal Pipeline Group and a vocal critic of the panel's delays in the past.

"I think the heading of the report - 'Foundation for a Sustainable Northern Future'- tells it all. It's needed."

"We're extremely pleased to hear the panel supports the project and we will be reviewing the recommendations," stated Ann Marie Tout, president of the NWT Chamber of Commerce, via e-mail.

DFN along with other groups will now be waiting for the National Energy Board, which was tasked with examining the technical aspects and economic feasibility of the project. The board will hold its final hearing in April. It will then consult several federal departments, including Fisheries and Oceans plus the cabinet, before issuing its final decision on the pipeline, possibly by September.


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