A blockade by hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation that is preventing work from proceeding on the $6.6 billion Coastal GasLink has not yet put the project in jeopardy, but time is “running short,” says Coastal GasLink president David Pfeiffer.
In a press conference Monday, January 27, Pfeiffer said his company continues to ask some of the hereditary chiefs to meet with the company to bring a standoff to a peaceful resolution. But so far, the chiefs have refused to meet or talk with the company.
“Work is progressing on schedule and as planned 2023 in service,” Pfeiffer told reporters.
“To date, our schedule has not been significantly impacted by the blockade, and we have the ability to make up for lost time. However, time is running short. We have an obligation to deliver our pipeline to LNG in accordance with our contract.”
He referred to the $40 billion LNG Canada project, which has the support of provincial and federal governments. Moreover, the Coastal GasLink project has the support of 20 First Nations along the pipeline route, including the five elected band councils of the Wet’suwet’en.
Hereditary chiefs insist that elected band councils only have authority over reserve lands, and that only hereditary chiefs can grant consent on their unceded territories.
A handful of hereditary chiefs have “evicted” the company from their territory in an area near Houston, B.C. The company has a small temporary work camp set up in the area, but need to get into the area to builder a larger one, which would accommodate up to 500 workers.
Coastal GasLink has an injunction against the hereditary chiefs and their supporters who have tried to establish blockades on the Morice West Forest Service Road. The company continues to try to meet with the hereditary chiefs and the Office of the Wet'suwet'en, which was set up to represent hereditary chiefs in treaty negotiations.
The chiefs have refused all attempts to meet with Coastal GasLink, and have insisted on meeting only with senior government officials. They are insisting on "nation to nation" talks. Premier John Horgan has sent his minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, Scott Fraser, to speak with them, but has made it clear he personally will not meet with the hereditary chiefs.
Horgan said the BC Supreme Court, in granting an injunction against protestors, made it clear that it considers the project fully permitted, and has the support of elected band councils.
But on Monday, January 27, Horgan announced he was appointing Nathan Cullen, former NDP MP for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, as a liaison between his government and the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs.
"Nathan has agreed to act as an intermediary in the hopes of finding a solution to this challenging dispute," Horgan said in a press release.
According to a B.C. government press release, Cullen will work with the Wet'suwet'en, RCMP and Coastal GasLink in an attempt to de-escalate tensions.
RCMP have set up an exclusion zone in the area to control the movement of people in and out of the contested area.