Wolastoqey chiefs accuse NB Power of thwarting negotiations on Mactaquac dam renewal

Wolastoqey chiefs in New Brunswick say their land claim is being used as a justification for NB Power offering lower compensation to their communities over a massive planned upgrade of the Mactaquac Dam and generating station.

Mary’s First Nation President Alan Bolches Jr., who spoke to CBC News on behalf of the other five, said the narrowing of negotiating terms indicated a step back in talks that had been underway for years and signaled political interference by the county government. Wolastoqey heads.

“It is unfortunate that NB, as you know, is narrowing the scope of the negotiation powers based on a claim we rightfully have,” said Bolchis, part of the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick, the group in negotiations with NB Power.

The facility announced in early 2020 its plan to renovate the dam, about 20 kilometers west of Fredericton, to allow it to continue operating until 2068.

The cost of the renovation is estimated between $2.7 billion and $3.6 billion. Another $2 billion to $3 billion could be spent importing electricity from Hydro-Quebec over the next 20 years.

Mary’s First Nation President Alan Bolches Jr. says he is disappointed that NB Power has changed its negotiating position in light of the claim to the Wolastoqey title. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

According to documents shared with CBC News, NB Power made its first offer to the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick in March 2021, which included six jurisdictions that the facility was willing to negotiate, as well as the amount of money allocated to each.

Conditions included employment, education, environmental protection, community interests, procurement, contracts, economic opportunity and cultural protection measures.

In September 2021, the Wolastoqey Nation issued a counter-offer, which included further environmental protection as well as a requirement that NB Power build a 200MW renewable energy project that would cover energy costs in the Wolastoqey communities.

In a letter to the Wolastoqey Nation in May of this year, Charlie Ryan, NB Power’s renewal project manager, said NB Power would drop three of the jurisdictions listed in its original bid.

“In light of the details of the counteroffer and the pending litigation against NB Power et al regarding Indigenous ownership in New Brunswick, NB Power must refocus the scope of negotiations to address the negative impacts identified [Mactaquac Life Achievement project] About Aboriginal rights or potential or established treaties” for the Wolastoqey nation, Ryan said in the letter.

As a result, he said, NB Power would like to continue negotiations to reach an agreement, focusing solely on employment, education, environmental protection, procurement and contracts.

The cost of renovating the Mactaquac Dam is expected to be between $2.7 billion and $3.6 billion, along with between $2 billion and $3 billion that could be spent on importing electricity from Hydro-Quebec over the next 20 years. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

In 2020, the chiefs of Wolastoqey filed a royal claim in court, which covered nearly half of the county, namely in the areas along Wolastoq, also known as the St. John’s River, on which the Mactaquac Dam was built.

Last fall, Wolastoqey chiefs updated the title claim to include plots of land owned by NB Power and the county’s five largest forestry companies.

They say they want ownership of the land used by the five forest companies, NB Power, the federal and provincial governments, and if they win, they are willing to sign agreements to allow industrial harvesting to continue provided they agree.

Months after updating the title claim, New Brunswick Attorney General Ted Fleming issued a memo to county employees directing them to stop making First Nations title recognitions, a move he said was prompted by recent legal action.

Prime Minister Blaine Higgs has also come under fire for spreading false information by saying that the title claim “affects every landowner” in the county.

CBC News requested an interview with NB Power about its negotiations with the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick, and instead received an email statement from spokesperson Marc Belliveau.

“On any major project, NB Power has held discussions with First Nations communities as part of their duty to consult. This is certainly the case with the Mactaquac Life Achievement project,” he said.

“NB Power remains committed to working with the country of Wolastoqey as the utilities continue to explore a path forward for the Mactaquac Life Achievement project.”

Jason Hoyt, a spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development, said the department has not been involved in any of those discussions with NB Power and has no information about them.

What we seek is the ability to pursue our economic developmentSaint Mary’s First Nation President Alan Bolches Jr.

Bolchis said a claim to title to NB Power such as the Mactaquac Dam would give Wolastoqey leaders more “leverage” in any negotiations on how to develop the infrastructure.

However, he added, it could take up to 20 years before the case can be heard in court, while renovation of the dam is expected to begin within the next few years.

“What we seek is the ability to pursue our economic development and the ability to generate revenue for ourselves…to achieve economic sustainability for our communities,” Bolchis said.

“And the challenges we’re facing from District and NB Power are almost like taking us back…to the ’50s and ’60s, you know, that are holding back progress for our communities.”