Three Mi'kmaq communities are asking a federal court to reverse the approval of a crude-by-rail export terminal in a northern New Brunswick port, arguing that Ottawa never properly consulted them on the project.
The filing to be made Wednesday will ask the court to overturn the Port of Belledune's approval for the project – which the Mi'kmaq charge was made secretly last October – and to order the federal government to consult and "seek reasonable accommodation" with them over the proposed $400-million Chaleur Terminals project.
Calgary-based Secure Energy Services Inc. is proposing to bring two dedicated trains a day of crude to Belledune, N.B., where the proposed export terminal would have capacity to ship 120,000 barrels a day of heavy crude to international markets.
Aboriginal opposition looms as one of the greatest threats to Alberta's quest to secure access to new markets through pipelines – or rail cars – to Canada's coasts.
The Mi'kmaq were encouraged by the federal court decision to quash the regulatory approval of the Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway pipeline on the grounds that Ottawa had not properly consulted First Nations or sought to accommodate their concerns about the project.
Three First Nations communities – members of the Mi'gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat – have already challenged the provincial government's decision to grant construction and environmental permits, and are awaiting a decision on that application.
But after unsuccessfully appealing to the federal Liberal government to intervene, they are now asking the court to validate their constitutional right to be consulted and accommodated.
"There has simply been absolutely no effort on the part of the Government of Canada to consult or accommodate the applicants in relation to the project and its potentially devastating impacts on the applicants, despite repeated requests that it do so," said the draft application, a copy of which was provided to The Globe and Mail.
The aboriginal communities are particularly worried about the impact on salmon if there is a derailment along one of the rivers, said Tanya Barnaby, executive director with Mi'gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat. They worry old Canadian National Railway tracks will not be able to handle the increased traffic of mile-long crude trains, she added.
Denis Caron, chief executive officer of the Port of Belledune, said the federal agency "fully met its obligations" by completing an environmental assessment of the project.
Chaleur Terminals Inc. – a New Brunswick subsidiary of Secure Energy – has challenged the contention that the project requires a sweeping assessment of rail and marine tanker traffic.
The company contends the project under review consists only of the proposed new terminal, while rail and marine traffic are covered by existing regulations.
Secure Energy is still seeking commercial support for the project and won't make a final investment decision until it has those shipping commitments, its vice-president, John Levson, said Tuesday.