The federal government has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Pacheedaht First Nation to build and co-manage a $22-million Coast Guard facility on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
The project is in response to the nation’s safety and environmental concerns over the Trans-Mountain Expansion Project (TMX).
The new Port Renfrew Multipurpose Marine Facility will provide search and rescue and environmental response services, and boost marine safety and response capacity in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Completion in expected sometime in 2022.
Bernadette Jordan, Canada’s minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, announced the signing of the MOU June 29, praising the partnership for the prominent role played by the First Nation.
“We’re addressing concerns people have about building TMX safely and responsibly, but also in partnership — and that’s one of the key things,” Jordan said.
“The Pacheedaht First Nation saw a gap in our response capacity on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and so we’ve been working to co-develop this agreement within their territory.”
She added the new facility will also meet requests from the Coast Guard to expand their response capacity on the west coast.
What the co-management structure will look like is unclear. Staffing numbers, vessel complement and other details are also unknown.
“How is going to be managed to who owns it; what’s going to be the development of it going forward? We’re going to work on a consensus basis with the First Nation community,” Jordan said.
Pacheedaht First Nation Chief Jeff Jones stated in a press release that construction of a marine safety centre in Pacheedaht territory has been a vision of his nation for many years.
“It will help Pacheedaht exercise a greater role in protecting and managing the 112 kilometres of marine coastline, vast territorial waters and abundant resources. This MOU is a great step forward in building a government to government partnership between Pacheedaht First Nation and the Canadian Coast Guard.”
The MOU is the first achievement under the Co-Developing Community Response Initiative, a measure to help the government meet 156 conditions of the Trans Mountain pipeline twinning project.
Key concerns among Indigenous communities along the marine route include increased risks associated with tanker traffic, as well as worries over the environment and impacts on cultural sites.
Despite the positive agreement with the Pacheedaht First Nation, the government-owned pipeline is mired in controversy and has faced numerous legal challenges from environmental and Indigenous groups. An oil spill at Trans Mountain’s Sumas Pump Station in Abbotsford last month prompted further backlash from Indigenous leaders across B.C. denouncing the project in favour of clean energy development.
Chief Dalton Silver of the Sumas First Nation noted the proposed pipeline expansion plans would run adjacent to the Lightning Rock site – a cultural site and burial grounds significant to the Sema:th First Nation and Stό:lō Coast Salish Peoples.
Minister Jordan said she hopes the MOU with the Pacheedaht First Nation will show Canadians the government is listening to Indigenous concerns.
-with files from Ben Lypka and Canadian Press