Medicine Hat News

First Nation lauds plan to protect traditiona­l land use in oilsands management plan

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The Alberta government says it has completed a plan to manage oilsands developmen­t in an area near the Fort McKay First Nation that supports traditiona­l land uses and maintains its ecological integrity.

The announceme­nt follows an Alberta Court of Appeal ruling last April, which overturned regulatory approvals for a $440-million oilsands project that would have encroached on land the First Nation considers sacred.

The court ruled that the Alberta Energy Regulator violated the honour of the Crown when it approved the proposal even though the developmen­t infringed on an agreement between the province and the First Nation.

Chief Mel Grandjamb says the Moose Lake Access Management Plan means band members will have a place to practise treaty rights and live in a traditiona­l manner.

Fort McKay, north of Fort McMurray, is surrounded on three sides by oilsands developmen­t and 70 per cent of the band’s traditiona­l territory is taken up by mines.

Grandjamb says the plan calls for oilsands processing facilities to be outside the Moose Lake area and recognizes the negative effects such facilities would have on the First Nation’s ability to practise traditiona­l land uses essential to the preservati­on of Cree and Dene cultures.

“We are very ecstatic that the plan is what we wanted,” Grandjamb said in a phone interview Tuesday. “We are going to have a joyous celebratio­n. People have been breaking down in tears.”

Alberta Environmen­t

Minister Jason Nixon said the plan supports traditiona­l First Nation land uses with wellmanage­d resource developmen­t.

The plan prohibits major infrastruc­ture, including airfields, landfills, permanent work camps and central processing facilities within the 10-kilometre zone.

It also includes enhanced environmen­tal monitoring for air, land, water and biodiversi­ty within the planning area and no new industrial mining activity within the zone.

“This plan has been years in the making and we are pleased to be the government to bring it over the finish line,” Nixon said in a release.

“The Alberta government, Fort McKay First Nation and industry share the singular goal of supporting responsibl­e developmen­t in the oilsands region.”

In 2001, the band began talks with the province to preserve Moose Lake and a 10-kilometre buffer zone around it. Former Alberta premier Jim Prentice signed a letter of intent with the band in 2015 and three years later Fort McKay thought it had a deal, although it was never ratified.

That year, the Alberta Energy Regulator approved Prosper Petroleum’s 10,000-barrel-a-day, steamassis­ted bitumen extraction project that would have come within two kilometres of the lakeshore.

Last year, the Appeal Court instructed the regulator to reconsider the project.

Prosper CEO Brad Gardiner said the court ruling reflected a failure of the regulatory framework for the energy industry and a failure of the Crown to address the concerns of Fort McKay First Nation.

Gardiner was not immediatel­y available for comment on the government’s Tuesday announceme­nt.

In July, the Alberta Energy Regulator said it would reopen the public hearing of Prosper Petroleum’s proposal.

A spokeswoma­n for the regulator said a date for the hearing has not been set.

 ?? CP FILE PHOTO ?? An aerial view of Fort McKay, Alta., from 2011.
CP FILE PHOTO An aerial view of Fort McKay, Alta., from 2011.

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