Wet’suwet’en officials call for stop-work order after dozens of violations
LIKHTS’AMISYU TERRITORY — Wet’suwet’en officials have confirmed pipeline contractors dug up gravel beds and drove heavy equipment back and forth across spawning habitat as they installed huge pumps to divert Lho Kwa, the Clore River, a large tributary of the Skeena. Coastal GasLink failed to control silt or erosion in the river, putting countless salmon eggs in jeopardy.
“For months, Coastal GasLink has stopped us from accessing our own land to monitor pipeline work. Now we know what they were hiding,” said Tsebesa, a chief in the Likhts’amisyu (Fireweed) clan who flew into Lho Kwa by helicopter to monitor her territory. “This reckless conduct violates both Wet’suwet’en and Canadian laws. Work on river crossings needs to stop immediately while investigators assess the damage.”
Coastal GasLink is digging trenches across streams and rivers in B.C.’s Coast Mountains to lay a gas pipeline through previously untouched terrain. At Lho Kwa, contractors dug up the river bed itself to create an intake pool for large pumps. The pumps divert the river’s flow while excavators dig the trench. This in-stream work has already churned up the gravel river bed and released a thick plume of sediment, smothering fish eggs downstream.
“Provincial regulators are failing to hold Coastal GasLink accountable,” said Na’moks, head chief of the neighbouring Tsayu (Beaver) clan. “It’s cheaper to pay the fines than to do the work properly, and that’s if they get caught. We need an immediate stop-work order from the federal government to protect salmon habitat, and prevent further violations under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) has issued more than 50 warnings, 16 orders and two fines against Coastal GasLink and its contractors for what the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy describes as “repeated” problems with erosion and sediment control on its construction project. In October, the EAO again noted that Coastal GasLink was failing to comply with orders intended to protect fish habitat.
Gary Michell, Head Ranger for Wet’suwet’en Fisheries, was also on the January 10 inspection flight with Tsebesa. “I was part of the fisheries research team that noted the presence of Chinook, Coho and Steelhead in the upper Clore river in 2011,” said Michell. “Skeena salmon and steelhead are facing many serious threats to their survival; digging up riverbeds without sediment and erosion control doesn’t help.”
“Canada has just made major commitments to halt and reverse biodiversity loss and support Indigenous-led conservation at the UN biodiversity conference in December,” David Suzuki Foundation executive director Severn Cullis-Suzuki said. “The lack of monitoring and enforcement for following the law on this project completely undermines those goals. The damage to B.C. salmon habitat is deeply troubling. Fisheries and Oceans Canada needs to issue Coastal GasLink a stop-work order immediately and resolve these issues.”
“B.C. has spent tens of millions on RCMP raids to remove Wet’suwet’en people from our territory,” continued Na’moks. “We are out there doing their jobs for them, trying to protect the water and the land, and they treat us like criminals. If B.C. spent that money enforcing their own environmental laws, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”
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