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Development under scrutiny

Neighbouring First Nations at odds over environmental review process

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Sep 28/01) - Acho Dene Koe sub-chief Jim Duntra is worried about jobs lost to delays in a proposed seismic project near Fort Liard.

Canadian Forest Oil's application for a land-use permit was referred to environmental assessment, a lengthy and comprehensive process carried out by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Review Board.

The Liidli Kue First Nation (LKFN) had expressed concerns over cumulative effects -- the overall impact of all development projects on the ecosystem -- and possible impacts on moose habitat as its primary concerns over the seismic activity.

Although the LKFN was not the only organization to cite that concern, Acho Dene Koe Chief Judy Kotchea sent a strongly-worded letter to the LKFN expressing her disappointment in its objections.

Kotchea was not available for comment. Sub-chief Jim Duntra, who is also president of Beaver Enterprises, an oil and gas service sector company owned by the band, said there are people in his community who are counting on the seismic project for an income.

"Lots of people have to get up and work, and they have kids," he said.

The ADK is consequently pursuing opportunities in northern B.C. and Alberta, he said.

"My concern is people without jobs."

Ken Mitchell, senior geophysical specialist with Canadian Forest Oil, said the proposed seismic program would create 80 to 100 seasonal jobs. Generally, 40 to 55 per cent of related jobs are filled by Northerners, he said. The environmental assessment has put things behind schedule and may result in a lost winter season, he said.

"The timing is getting critical to us right now," Mitchell said. He said his company does respect the environmental review process, however.

LKFN Chief Rita Cli said her band routinely writes letters of concern over every proposed development upstream.

"It doesn't matter what they do, if it ever hits our waterways, as down-river users we're going to be affected," she explained.

Cli acknowledged that LKFN band members are on the ADK's payroll and would also benefit from the seismic project. Yet, she said it's important to create a paper trail.

"If we don't oppose anything and there's ever repercussions because of development, we won't be compensated," she said. "Because there could be pollution down the road, to leave proper documentation we have to (send letters of concern)."

The ADK has scheduled a workshop for late October focusing on environmental impacts from seismic activity.

"If there's concerns, let's work on it," Duntra said. "I think everybody has concerns about (the) environment."

The ADK has invited the LKFN, and the LKFN will send a delegation, according to Cli.