Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs call for stop-work order until provincial, federal regulators meet with them

WET’SUWET’EN TERRITORY – A significant failure by Coastal GasLink on the Clore River has resulted in continued environmental damage as contractors attempt to trench the pipeline through the riverbed.

Wet’suwet’en officials flew to the site on the weekend and photographed the incident, concerned that regulators had missed the opportunity. The team observed washouts on the dams both upstream and downstream of the trenching. The washouts resulted in flooded equipment, debris and sediment floating in the worksite, and heavy sediment loads being washed downstream, just three weeks after the company was caught failing to install erosion and sediment control at this very same location. The Clore is a renowned salmon and steelhead river in the Skeena Watershed.

“Coastal GasLink has lost control of this river crossing, and our fish are paying the price,” said Tsebesa, hereditary chief for the territory, after flying into the site by helicopter Sunday. “Ultimately, I wish they would just pack up and leave. This project went forward without our consent while this government touts the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. But with the current and ongoing damage from Coastal GasLink continuously breaking the law, we are asking for a stop-work order until we, the hereditary chiefs, can meet with B.C. and federal regulators to ensure there are people and plans in place to uphold the law. To do anything else would be negligent.”

Access to the Clore and other sites are controlled by industry, private security and taxpayer-funded RCMP. Hereditary chiefs, though acknowledged as rightful territory owners and stewards of the Yintah (territory), are being denied ground access under threat of arrest, even for monitoring purposes.

Section 36 of the federal Fisheries Act lists sediments as a pollutant or deleterious substance, which is why erosion and sediment control is so important and legally required.

“We walked along the river bank downstream of the work site and you can see a band of dark mud deposited as the water level dropped,” said Gary Michell, head ranger for the Wet’suwet’en fisheries department. “That sediment presents significant risks to salmon and steelhead eggs downstream.”

Coastal GasLink has been fined at least three times for the same violation, but issuing the citations and fines can take about a year to complete.

“When these issues were reported earlier this month, the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission said they inspected the site and reviewed the images, but didn’t find any non-compliance despite clear, photographic evidence to the contrary,” said Na’moks, hereditary chief of the Wet’suwet’en beaver clan, who also joined the flight. “We didn’t consent to this project. They violently forced it on us. The least the regulators could do is ensure the job is being done right. Where is the OGC’s proof that Coastal GasLink was, as they say, compliant? Where is the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in ensuring the Fisheries Act is being upheld?”

“The Coastal GasLink project has shown us that despite claims that B.C. has some of the best environmental standards in the world, our enforcement regime is not ensuring those standards actually protect fish or water quality,” added Severn Cullis-Suzuki, executive director of the David Suzuki Foundation. “Not only have governments approved continued fossil fuel development in the midst of a climate emergency, but the lack of meaningful enforcement by the federal and provincial governments are putting wild Pacific salmon at risk.”

“The clock is ticking on this project and corners are likely to be cut. That’s why now, more than ever, we need to meet with regulators to make sure Coastal GasLink doesn’t continue to break the law,” Na’Moks said. “It hurt to see what’s out there now, because we know what was there before.”

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View photos from Jan. 29.

For more information or media interviews, please contact:

Na’Moks: tsayu2@yahoo.ca, (250) 643-0771
Tsebesa: lilwilson22@hotmail.com, (250) 643-1143
Brendan Glauser: bglauser@davidsuzuki.org, (604) 356-8829