A new alliance formed by aboriginal leaders and environmental activists wants the newly elected Liberal government to block a liquefied natural gas project in northwestern British Columbia.
Donnie Wesley, a Lax Kw'alaams tribal chief who started a protest camp in August on the site of the proposed LNG terminal, is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to take action to protect juvenile salmon habitat.
Mr. Wesley has enlisted the backing of nearly 80 native groups, environmental organizations, unions and an array of other supporters.
Pacific NorthWest LNG, led by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas, has portrayed the project as one that will be an economic boost for British Columbia while protecting ecologically sensitive Flora Bank, a sandy area where eelgrass nurtures young salmon.
But Mr. Wesley is asking Ottawa to reject the proposal to build an $11.4-billion export terminal on Lelu Island, located next to Flora Bank. Lelu Island and Flora Bank, which are under the jurisdiction of the Prince Rupert Port Authority, are on the traditional territory of the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation.
"Prime Minister Trudeau, you have an opportunity and a responsibility to address this issue and bring resolution to this escalating conflict," he wrote in a letter sent to Mr. Trudeau and copied to Ms. McKenna. "This project could cause irreversible damage to Flora Bank."
Mr. Wesley, a hereditary chief of the Gitwilgyoots tribe, has been leading the protest camp on Lelu Island since late August. "The new Prime Minister has promised to care for the environment," he said in a phone interview Sunday from Lelu Island.
Some members of the Nine Tribes of Lax Kw'alaams, however, said last month that they consider the camp an unauthorized occupation of Lelu Island. Those native critics who are opposed to Mr. Wesley say Lelu Island should be scrutinized as a potential export site as long as Pacific NorthWest LNG can protect Flora Bank, which is visible at low tide in the Skeena River estuary.
Spencer Sproule, Pacific NorthWest LNG's senior adviser of corporate affairs, said the Petronas-led consortium "has been undertaking a three-year, science-based environmental assessment that has included substantial and constructive consultation with area First Nations."
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA), which is reviewing plans by the consortium, is expected to issue its final ruling by late February.
"We are confident that the independent CEAA process will find that our project can and will be built to the highest environmental standards without causing significant impacts to wild salmon," Mr. Sproule said.
Mr. Wesley is asking Ottawa to halt Pacific NorthWest LNG's test drilling in the Skeena River estuary.
Greg Horne, energy co-ordinator with the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, said a wide range of groups and individuals have joined the new alliance, including scientist David Suzuki, author Naomi Klein and B.C. Green Party deputy leader Andrew Weaver. Lax Kw'alaams Mayor Garry Reece, who is seeking re-election on Nov. 19, also endorsed the letter sent to Mr. Trudeau and Ms. McKenna.
The United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union and coastal conservation groups sent a separate letter to Mr. Trudeau and Ms. McKenna to warn that salmon will be placed at risk if Pacific NorthWest LNG is allowed to export fuel to Asia.
The Lax Kw'alaams and four other Tsimshian First Nations were consulted during a provincial environmental review last year of Pacific NorthWest LNG. Two Tsimshian groups, the Metlakatla and the Kitselas, signed deals with the consortium last December that would bring them economic benefits.