Construction of a natural gas pipeline was disrupted on Monday, as protesters set up a blockade on the Walpole Island bridge.
The project has been a contentious issue on the First Nation reserve, as many members of the community are against having the gas line installed.
However, Walpole Island band council has approved the project, despite the objections.
Reports say construction was slated to begin on Monday, however Union Gas sent workers home for safety reasons due to the blockade.
Members of the Council of Canadians Windsor-Essex Chapter, along with members of the Council of Canadians London Chapter joined concerned Walpole Island residents at the blockade on Monday.
“At first we stopped traffic on the bridge to the island to hand out info flyers and to block any Union Gas equipment,” the Council of Canadians Windsor-Essex Chapter posted on social media.
“When Walpole Island police told us we could not impede traffic we stood by the side of the road with our signs. We accomplished two things. One, the work was stopped on the pipeline and two, no equipment made it over the bridge.
The group added: “We then learned that band council and Chief were having an emergency meeting about the pipeline. Band members went to the Council to voice there opposition. The Band Council and the people came back to the sacred fire by the bridge and every member of the community got a chance to speak. In the end they will have to meet again to resolve their differences.”
Earlier this month, multiple residents, including a delegation of grandmothers from the community, took to the microphone at a Walpole Island council meeting to express their frustration with Walpole Island’s partnership with Union Gas and the approval of the first phase of the natural gas infrastructure expansion in the community.
“It’s a sad day,” said Corrine Tooshkenig, who stepped in front of and grabbed a hold of machinery as crews were about to break ground on the project on August 8.
“When I became aware of this Union Gas project, this flier came out in the mail and the community didn’t know about it. This is a problem, no communication. Your projects and your decision making is made without the people’s knowledge.”
Bill Tooshkenig, a Walpole Island band councillor, said during the council meeting he is concerned about the people of Walpole Island getting up to 50% cheaper energy bills stemming from the new gas line.
“Hydro is going to start being shut off,” Bill Tooshkenig said. “There are over 300 people that are not paying because they can’t afford it. This energy that you see from wind mills and solar panels is not cheap, it’s more expensive. Natural gas is cheaper, that is why I supported it.”
He added businesses on Walpole Island, including Tahgahoning Enterprises and Walpole Island’s school, will save a considerable amount of money each year thanks to the gas line project.
Walpole Island council voted unanimously to resume construction, during a special meeting held at the Walpole Island Library on Wednesday, August 10.
Walpole Island First Nation officials posted a press release on their website on Monday, July 27 last year announcing Walpole’s partnership with Union Gas and the approval of the first phase of natural gas infrastructure expansion in the community.
“Expansion of natural gas to Walpole Island has been an infrastructure goal for over 20 years and we are very happy to see the first phase of implementation finally realized,” Walpole Island officials stated in the press release.
“This expansion will provide a number of benefits to our community including decreased overhead for economic development ventures and governance operations, a more affordable alternative to heating homes and water for community members, and increased ability to attract economic development into our community. This phase of the project will be funded partially through funding from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and partially through the Walpole Island First Nation.”
Walpole Island official said the first phase of the project would include the installation of a pipeline under the Snye River, which will follow the Tecumseh Highway to the St. Clair River, then continue North to the WIFN Water Treatment Plant.
“It is estimated that the amount we will save on operations for our farming corporation alone will be in excess of $200,000 within the first year of connection,” Walpole Island officials stated.
“These are dollars that can be reinvested into the community. We have been working closely with Union Gas to develop this project for many years now and are excited to see the opportunity finally coming to fruition.”
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– Photo credit: Council of Canadians Windsor-Essex Chapter