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VICTORIA and VANCOUVER — The proponent of a liquefied natural gas plant on British Columbia’s north coast is offering more than $1-billion to obtain the consent of a First Nations community, a groundbreaking proposal that could establish the new price for natural resource development in traditional aboriginal territories.
In a province where resource projects have stalled and sometimes foundered over aboriginal opposition, the tentative deal between the Prince Rupert-based Lax Kw’alaams band and a joint venture led by Malaysia’s state-owned Petronas sets a new benchmark for sharing the wealth from energy extraction.
If approved by band members, the agreement will transfer roughly $1-billion in cash to the Lax Kw’alaams band over the span of the 40-year deal, while the B.C. government is putting more than $100-million worth of Crown lands on the table. For the 3,600 members of the Lax Kw’alaams community, the total package works out to a value of roughly $320,000 per person.
“This will be a real game-changer for many First Nations in terms of how they can build their future,” B.C. Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad said in an interview Thursday.
The proposed pact hinges on federal environmental approval of the Petronas-led Pacific NorthWest LNG project, to be built on the traditional territory of the Lax Kw’alaams.
In British Columbia, most of the land base is still subject to native claims, but recent court rulings have firmly established the existence of aboriginal title.
“It’s a significant deal, a serious deal,” Mr. Rustad said. He said LNG projects have the prospect to be transformative for communities where LNG is being developed on B.C.’s coast. “There is no question liquefied natural gas sets the stage for an incredible opportunity for all of British Columbia and especially the First Nations involved in it.”
Members of the Lax Kw’alaams will be voting in May on the offer from Pacific NorthWest LNG, TransCanada Corp.’s Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline project and the B.C. government. TransCanada’s pipeline would carry natural gas from northeastern British Columbia to Pacific NorthWest LNG’s planned $11.4-billion export terminal on Lelu Island, located near Prince Rupert.
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