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The Trans Mountain expansion poses significant risks to endangered orcas through acoustic disturbance, vessel strikes, oil spills and cumulative effects.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

Two British Columbia Indigenous groups appealing the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in court have withdrawn their opposition to the project, saying their concerns over the pipeline route have been addressed.

Upper Nicola Band and Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc of the Secwepemc Nation (SSN) told the Federal Court of Appeal Monday they are discontinuing their role in the case.

In a letter filed with the court, SSN lawyer Sarah Hansen said the group unconditionally withdrew its statement of opposition to the project and will no longer participate in the pipeline’s detailed route approval process.

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Upper Nicola Band also quit the appeal via a notice submitted Monday.

It’s the second development in the case this week, coming as three environment groups and Tsleil-Waututh Nation announced on Tuesday they would seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada to hear a raft of environmental concerns about the project.

The Squamish Nation will also seek to challenge the limited scope of the appeal.

The Trans Mountain expansion poses significant risks to endangered orcas through acoustic disturbance, vessel strikes, oil spills and cumulative effects, Squamish Nation Councillor Khelsilem said in a statement posted online Wednesday, urging the court to comply with obligations to protect the species.

"We are asking that the courts fully scrutinize whether Canada has lived up to its obligations to protect this important species and our rights,” Khelsilem said.

The project, now owned by the Government of Canada, was stalled in August, 2018, when the Court of Appeal quashed its approval based on inadequate consultation with Indigenous communities, as well as a failure to consider the negative effects of increased oil-tanker traffic on marine life – particularly the endangered southern resident killer whales.

In the wake of that ruling, Ottawa conducted additional consultation and announced new measures to safeguard the marine environment. It then reapproved the project in June of this year.

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The court decided in September it would allow a judicial review to determine whether Ottawa adequately consulted with Indigenous communities about the project, but said arguments would be limited to what had been done to remedy the shortcomings on Indigenous consultation identified by the court last year.

The court heard 12 applications for a judicial review of the reapproval, but in its September ruling it only allowed six motions. Those motions were consolidated into a single application that included SSN and Upper Nicola Band.

The exit of the two nations this week leaves the Coldwater Indian Band, Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Aitchelitz as the primary objectors to the project, pitted against the federal government and Trans Mountain. The Alberta and Saskatchewan governments and the Canadian Energy Regulator all have intervenor status in the case.

Construction on the expansion project resumed this summer.

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