PRINCE RUPERT, B.C. – Lelu Island looks like any of the dozens of tree-covered islands set in the waters off northern British Columbia’s picturesque coast when the tide is in.
When the tide goes, however, an elongated shoreline covered in eelgrass appears. The embankment, called the Flora Bank, is both a critical salmon habitat and at the centre of a fight between environmentalists, First Nations, multiple levels of government and Pacific Northwest LNG, a proposed $11.4-billion facility by Petronas, Malaysia’s state-owned energy producer, that would supercool natural gas until it reaches a liquid state so it can be exported to Asia.
Ken Lawson, house leader with the Gitwilgyoots tribe, describes his opposition to the LNG export project as “location, location, location.”
The location has infuriated environmentalists and First Nations people such as Lawson determined to protect the Flora Bank, where millions of juvenile salmon from the Skeena River acclimate between freshwater and saltwater every year. It has led to a groundswell of environmental activism and legal challenges on the basis of aboriginal title that could prevent the project from being built.
The location has also exposed divisions in Prince Rupert, a city whose population was cut in half when a pulp mill here closed more than a decade ago. Residents are largely in favour of new port development to provide jobs and rejuvenate the city’s boarded-up storefronts, but not at the cost of the region’s salmon fishing industry.
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