Sto:lo leaders are now looking to the province to stop a proposed hazardous waste recycling plant from being built in Chilliwack without their consent.
B.C. Environment officials told The Progress last week the riverside waste facility will not be built — unless it’s deemed “safe.”
STC Grand Chiefs Doug Kelly and Clarence Pennier wrote Environment Minister Mary Polak to say they weren’t consulted during the municipal rezoning of the proposed site for the recycling plant on Cannor Road in Chilliwack, less than 200 metres from the river.
“Despite the obvious hazards associated with handling toxic waste near the Fraser River, and within our Traditional Territory, the City did not consult with the Sto:lo before approving the rezoning for the Waste Project,” they wrote in the letter to the minister.
The chiefs did acknowledge the city’s relationship and duties to the Sto:lo are different than those of the province.
Citing the Tsilhqot’in decision from the Supreme Court of Canada, their position is that the Aevitas waste project infringes on their aboriginal rights and title, and demanded an immediate meeting with the minister last month.
They stated they could not envision any waste plant proposal that would be “acceptable,” on the flood plain of the Fraser River.
“It is our view that, in the face of our very good claim for title, the Province should seek our consent before approving the Waste Project.”
The Ontario-based proponent, Aevitas Inc., plans to recycle metal, glass and mercury from light bulbs and remove the PCBs from low-level PCB laden transformer oil for re-use.
“We expect your office to take every step necessary to ensure the Waste Project poses no threat to our community,” wrote the chiefs.
Ministry of Environment officials responded this week to Sto:lo leadership questions around potential threats to safety, but did not address the specific issues raised around aboriginal rights and title.
“The project will not proceed unless the ministry deems it safe – simply put, if it’s not safe it will not happen,” according to Ministry of Environment officials in statement.
The waste plant would have to be registered under the statutory rules and could be subject to other provincial legislation, according to MOE. The paperwork to obtain provincial approval from MOE was submitted last November.
“The application will undergo the necessary reviews and assessments by ministry staff before a final decision is made,” said the Environment Ministry statement which was emailed to The Progress. “Some larger waste management and handling facilities are also subject to an environmental assessment if they meet criteria under the EA Act’s Reviewable Projects Regulation.
Ministry staff will be working with the proponent to determine if an environmental assessment is required.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs put out a press statement Friday to say that “each First Nation enjoys the inherent and inalienable title” to their territories.
“There are very grave concerns about the proposed location for Aevitas’ hazardous waste site facility on the banks of the Fraser River, home to the vast majority of wild salmon runs in B.C.
“As indigenous peoples, we will not stand idly by as business interests are readily recognized as our Indigenous title, rights and treaty rights are minimized, completely disregarded or totally violated.”