For the Lax Kw'alaams in British Columbia, Thursday's decision turned out to be simple – the environmental risks of a massive liquefied natural gas project far outweighed the financial rewards.
In the second stage of three votes, members of the B.C. First Nations group have again unanimously rejected a $1-billion offer from the LNG joint venture led by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas.
More than 255 eligible Lax Kw'alaams voters at a meeting Thursday night in Prince Rupert declined to provide aboriginal consent to the Pacific NorthWest LNG project, say three sources close to the First Nations group. Row upon row, the people in attendance stood up to indicate their opposition at the North Coast Meeting and Convention Centre, located on the lower level of the Chances casino.
Aboriginal leaders and environmentalists say the proposed LNG export terminal on Lelu Island, near Prince Rupert, would be a threat to salmon habitat in the nearby sandy, reef-like Flora Bank. Critics say Lelu Island in the estuary of the Skeena River is a terrible place to locate the export terminal because of the threat to juvenile salmon habitat and the Lax Kw'alaams' way of life. "Lax Kw'alaams would no longer be able to harvest traditional plants and medicines on Lelu Island," according to a bulletin issued by the First Nations group to its members.
There are also worries that native history and signs of traditional culture will be lost, notably from damage to culturally significant trees, such as ones partly stripped of bark by aboriginals over the decades.
"Up to 431 culturally modified trees (CMTs) would be destroyed during the construction of the facility, although the proponent will attempt to preserve parts of the CMTs with modified features on them," the bulletin said.
Pacific NorthWest LNG estimates that $36-billion will need to be spent in order to make its planned exports a reality in 2019. The huge budget includes $11.4-billion for the LNG export terminal on Lelu Island and $5-billion for TransCanada Corp.'s Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline proposal.
In the first vote in the community of Lax Kw'alaams on Tuesday night, more than 180 eligible voters also unanimously stood up to show their opposition to the Pacific NorthWest LNG joint venture.
Lax Kw'alaams Mayor Garry Reece and 12 elected councillors will make the final decision on behalf of the 3,600-member band, after voting wraps up next Tuesday in Vancouver.
"We would like to thank Lax Kw'alaams Mayor Reece and council for inviting Pacific NorthWest LNG to address community members in Prince Rupert for the first time," Pacific NorthWest LNG president Michael Culbert said in a statement. "Out of respect to the ongoing process overseen by Mayor and council, it is premature and improper to comment further."
Besides the offer of $1-billion in cash over 40 years from Pacific NorthWest LNG, the B.C. government is willing to transfer 2,200 hectares of Crown land, valued at $108-million, including parcels in the Prince Rupert harbour area and other property near Lax Kw'alaams.
The Petronas-led group had a series of brochures for Lax Kw'alaams to read on Thursday night. "Listening to your feedback has helped us design one-of-a-kind marine infrastructure to protect fish and fish habitat in the Skeena estuary," said one brochure, which showed plans to build a suspension bridge and trestle from Lelu Island to a deep berth location in Chatham Sound.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) launched its review of Pacific NorthWest LNG in April, 2013.
Earlier this year, Pacific NorthWest LNG agreed to conduct "3-D sediment dispersion modelling" to study the complex system that effectively holds Flora Bank in place.
"The proponent has provided a partial response and the agency looks forward to receiving the remaining information when it is available," CEAA said in a statement Friday. "The timeline for the Pacific NorthWest LNG project remains paused on day 240 of the maximum 365-day legislated time frame and will resume when all of the information is received."
There are 19 B.C. LNG projects vying to export to foreign markets. They include 11 export licences that have been approved by the National Energy Board, including one announced Friday for a WesPac Midstream LNG proposal south of Vancouver.