Beaufort Delta
Environment

Nihtat Gwich’in oppose wind energy project in reindeer reserve


The Nihtat Gwich’in Council is asking the Gwich’in Land and Water Board to not allow the construction of a wind turbine project on reindeer grazing habitat near Inuvik. 

The NWT Energy Corporation has applied to the board for a land use permit and water licence in order to construct, operate, and maintain a wind turbine; all-season access road; and related electricity infrastructure at Highpoint. That area is within land that was withdrawn by the Northwest Territories government and set aside as a reindeer grazing reserve in 2014, mirroring a previous federal order.

In documents to the board, the territorial government said it has powers equivalent to ownership of the land. It said it used those powers to grant the energy corporation a right to occupy land to develop the electricity project. 

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In a motion to the board filed on July 30, however, the Nihtat Gwich’in disagreed, saying that exceeds the limits of the government’s powers. They also said the decision “circumvents” the approval needed to amend the reserve order and the protections under that order. 

“This undermines the protective purpose of the Reindeer Reserve,” the motion states. 

It also said the decision was made without notice, consultation, or regard for the comprehensive land management system set out in the Devolution Agreement, Gwich’in Land Claim Settlement Act, and the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement. Those require decision-makers to uphold Gwich’in cultural, social, environmental, and economic well-being, along with harvesting and other Indigenous and treaty rights. 

“The occupation of land for a project of this nature is not without consequences on Gwich’in rights,” the motion states. 

Ongoing concerns

This is not the first time that concerns have been raised with the Inuvik Wind Generation project.

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In February 2019, the Nihtat Gwich’in Council and the Inuvik Native Band said engagement had been “woefully inadequate, to the point of almost non-existent.” They also said they weren’t provided adequate funding to review and respond to submissions on potential social, cultural, environmental, and economic issues with the proposed project. 

The energy corporation, however, said during a three year engagement period – between July 2016 and September 2019 – they discussed the project with interested and affected parties, including the Gwich’in Development Corporation and the Nihtat Corporation, and “worked diligently” to address any concerns.

The energy corporation also noted the Nihtat Corporation won competitive contracts for three years of feasibility work on the project and was awarded over $1.5 million from the territorial government. That work included holding technical workshops, and reviewing environmental studies.

Territory stands behind the project

A spokesperson with the territorial government told Cabin Radio they stand behind the Inuvik Wind Generation project, calling it a “critical project” to meeting the 25 per cent greenhouse gas reduction target for diesel-generated electricity. They said they “look forward” to the land and water board’s decision.

“We respect, and are committed to, the regulatory process. Further, we respect that this process provides a forum for parties to raise their concerns with an application,” the spokesperon said in the email.

The government says the project has the potential to offset approximately three million litres of diesel per year, resulting in $3.4 million in fuel savings. It said it will also reduce annual greenhouse gases by 6,000 tonnes.

The project has an estimated lifespan of 25 years. When the wind turbine reaches the end of its life, the territorial Department of Infrastructure will consider whether to continue with a new turbine, or decommission the project. 

In November 2018, the federal and territorial governments committed $40 million in funding to the project. 

Representatives with the Nihtat Gwich’in Council did not respond to Cabin Radio’s request for comment by the time of publication.

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