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West Coast Olefins back looking at BCR site for petrochemical plant; First Nations firmly oppose facility

West Coast Olefins wants to come back to Prince George. However, it may be a tough road for the company hoping to build a $5.6 billion petrochemical plant.

In July, 2019, company CEO Ken James announced plans to build the plant on a 300-acre parcel of land in the BCR industrial Park in Prince George. Later that year the company fell out of favour with the Lheidli T’enneh when James was quoted on BNN Bloomberg as saying local First Nations were supportive of the plan.

In March of this year, West Coast Olefins signed an agreement with the McLeod Lake Indian Band to explore the possibility of locating the plant near McLeod Lake. In June, the McLeod Lake Indian Band and Lheidli T’enneh announced plans to develop an industrial park north of the city.

Earlier this week, on the BC Resources Coalition podcast, James said the company is returning to the BCR site.

“Our goal in moving outside the city was to accommodate concerns raised by the Too Close to Home advocacy group regarding the impacts on the bowl area of the Prince George airshed,” James said in a statement posted on the company website. “However, the Too Close to Home group renewed their objections to the new project location, despite the fact that they had suggested we consider a location north of Prince George and we now realize that anything short of cancelling our project will not appease this group. We also heard concerns from many residents in the Summit Lake area and this forced us to reflect on our decision to relocate.”

Another factor was a B.C. Court of Appeal decision regarding the location of the western boundary of Treaty 8 territory.

“This decision complicates any use of Crown lands in McLeod Lake Indian Band traditional territory as now it brings in overlapping claims with the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations,” according to the statement.

West Coast Olefins has now restarted the regulatory process for the ethylene plant with the Environmental Assessment Office.

“As part of the regulatory process, WCOL will enter formal consultation with impacted First Nations and the local community,” he said. “We have spent almost two years informally engaging with many of the different interest groups and First Nations in the Prince George area. That has provided us a very good perspective of community viewpoints and key points of contact that will be helpful as we enter the formal public and First Nations engagement process as stipulated in the EAO and OCG regulatory processes.”

This is where the road gets tough.

Lheidli T’enneh Nation and McLeod Lake Indian Band are not in support of West Coast Olefins advancing its proposed project in the BCR Industrial site. And the bands say there will be no future negotiations between the parties.

“Lheidli T’enneh began our discussions with Westcoast Olefins Ltd. (WCOL) in February 2018 when their management team first approached us,” said Dayi Clay Pountney of Lheidli T’enneh. “During the last 32 months we have worked with Westcoast Olefins in good faith and we have expended countless hours and dollars in our attempts to build a relationship that is respectful and transparent. Even when the project location was moved north of Prince George, we still maintained our commitment to negotiations via our partnership with McLeod Lake Indian band.”

Even though James said the deal with the McLeod Lake Indian Band was a binding term sheet that outlines the key terms that will underpin an impact benefits agreement related to the ‘Natural Gas Liquids Recovery Plant that WCOL is planning to construct within MLIB’s traditional territory,’ Chief Harley Chingee says it is abandoning those plans.

“Although McLeod Lake Indian Band invested significant time and resources into the negotiations with WCOL, no agreement was reached,” Chingee said. “It’s time to move on and work with industry partners that understand and respect aboriginal rights, title and interests. MLIB remains committed to working with LTN in the development of the Shas-Ti Dlezeh Industrial Park. We share a common vision to bring new industries into the territories including the petrochemical industry to help diversify the local economy.”

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