The company heading a controversial project that would see natural gas stored in huge underground caverns north of Halifax has gone to court to remove Aboriginal protesters from its work site.
Alton Natural Gas LP has filed an application requesting safe access to its Alton River facilities near Shubenacadie, and is seeking to remove "trespassing" protesters who have "consistently" blocked access to the site.
The company says the injunction application, filed Thursday, was necessary and comes after attempts at "engagement and discussion" with the individuals at the site.
The case will be heard March 12 in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, Alton spokesperson Lori MacLean said Friday.
Dorene Bernard, one of the "water protector" protesters, said they were served Friday morning.
Alton says power was recently lost at the facility and a recent inspection found flooding had damaged electrical equipment. The company says it's essential it have "immediate and unobstructed access" to assess the damage and to conduct repairs.
But Bernard said that might be "just a pretence" for the company to gain access to the site.
"I think they're trying to use this injunction to give power to the RCMP to force us off this land. But we have our own intrinsic rights. We have a sacred duty," said Bernard, a social worker, academic and member of the Sipekne'katik First Nation in nearby Indian Brook, N.S.
Alton says the work is needed to ensure the safety of its workers, neighbours and those who may attempt to enter without authorization.
"While we respect the right of individuals to express their views safely and peacefully, trespassing at Alton has been an ongoing concern for some time," the company said in a news release Friday.
"This step was necessary and comes after attempts at engagement and discussion with the individuals at the site. We remain committed to keeping the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia, surrounding communities, landowners and other stakeholders engaged as we advance this important project."
Bernard said protesters — who have been at the site since 2014 — spotted company officials walking into the site in December, and again a few weeks ago.
"We didn't block anybody. They walked in and walked out," she said.
"There was no altercation. There was no threats. If anybody was threatening, it was them."
Alton Natural Gas LP intends to use water from the Shubenacadie River to flush out underground salt deposits to create the caverns east of Alton, N.S., then pump the leftover brine solution into the river.
Members of the Sipekne'katik First Nation argue that the project will damage the 73-kilometre tidal river, which runs through the middle of mainland Nova Scotia.
"They think they can go ahead and do whatever they want to do irregardless of our Mi'kmaq people being consulted and the impact on our treaty rights and our land and our water," Bernard said Friday.
Alton maintains the project will provide millions of dollars in savings to natural gas customers in Nova Scotia.
The company said it has invested approximately $70 million to date.