Mayor vows no deal without Snuneymuxw
Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan has assured the Snuneymuxw First Nation that there will be no water-sharing agreement between the city and the Harmac pulp mill without the band's consent and approval.
Snuneymuxw Chief Doug White said he was "glad" to hear Ruttan make the commitment and the First Nation intends to hold him to it.
The Snuneymuxw said last week that they are considering launching a series of legal actions, targeting the province, the city and Harmac over a water-sharing agreement being negotiated that could see the city acquire much of Harmac's water licences for the Nanaimo River.
However, the First Nation is claiming the rights to fisheries and water under the Douglas Treaty, signed in 1854, extend to the whole Nanaimo River water-shed and that the water licences issued to Harmac more than 50 years ago are in direct violation of the treaty.
As a result, White claims that no agreements can be signed without the Snuneymuxw's approval.
Ruttan said at a news conference on Monday that the talks with Harmac over sharing the mill's water licences are still in the early stages and the city has yet to decide whether to try to access those licences or commit to the more expensive option of building a new dam and storage lake to meet the city's growing water needs.
"I believe the First Nation needs a reason to pursue litigation on this issue and it should be said that our only goal at this time is to talk to Harmac and the province and explore our options so we don't see the need to seek legal action at this time," Ruttan said.
"We won't know what direction we intend to take until all the costs of the various options are assessed and I will give my word to the Snuneymuxw that we won't enter into any water-sharing agreement without their consent and approval."
White said it's vitally important for the Snuneymuxw to have a "meaningful part" in any transfer of Harmac's water licences to the city.
He said any effort to change
COMMUNITY the water rights from industrial to municipal uses would be "significant" and affect the Snuneymuxw for generations.
"Any effort to proceed without us on this issue would not be satisfactory," White said.
"The mayor's statements (on Monday) is an acknowledgement of the strength of the (Douglas) treaty that we signed in 1854 and we will hold the city to this publicly stated commitment. The proof is in action and we will see."
Harmac president Levi Sampson said that with a project of "this magnitude," the city should be expected to explore all its options, including sharing water licences with the mill.
"We intend to work with all parties to find the best feasible solution for everyone concerned," Sampson said.