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Decision on future of Inuvik’s wind turbine expected soon

A decision on a request by the Nihtat Gwich’in Council to prevent the construction of a wind turbine on land that is a reindeer grazing reserve is expected within the next two weeks.

The council, which made the request to the Gwich’in Land and Water Board in January, said placing the 3.5-megawatt wind turbine at High Point, about 12 kilometres east of Inuvik and north of the Dempster Highway, would contravene their land agreement, according to Jozef Carnogursky, past president of the Nihtat Gwich’in Council.

“We are of the position that we need to be consulted on things like amendments to a reserve and the [government of the Northwest Territories’] position is that they don’t need to,” Carnogursky said.

The territorial and federal governments invested $40 million into Inuvik’s wind turbine project in 2018, hoping to have it completed by fall 2020.

The money is supposed to be used to install wind turbines, a grid controller and a large battery storage system that will provide energy when the winds slow. The money will also go toward building a five-kilometre road from the Dempster Highway to get to the wind turbines, and to connect the system to the local electric grid.

The Northwest Territories Power Corporation is planning to place the 3.5-megawatt turbine at High Point but it isn’t there yet; the land use permit and water licence for the project have yet to be approved.

“The main issue was whether the project was even able to proceed with the land withdrawal and the regulations that are currently in place,” Carnogursky said.

A land withdrawal order is existing rights that are grandfathered and protect the land from development and other activities.

The Nihtat Gwich’in believe the government can’t legally build on the land since there is a land withdrawal, according to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act.

Carnogursky said the government can amend it, but that would mean going through a process that includes consultation.

Concerns raised

Carnogursky said at first he thought it was a good project that would bring benefits to his community.

“While we were going through the process we did identify some issues,” he said. They included how the wind turbine could possibly impact caribou and how the agreement would impact the harvesting rights that Gwich’in have in the area.

He points out that part of the Reindeer Act states that off-leash dogs aren’t even allowed in High Point and believes the project would be going against regulations set out in the land claim.

“It is land withdrawn by the government,” Carnogursky said. “Good or bad, there are regulations in place and they aren’t our laws. It’s [government of the Northwest Territories’] laws and regulations that are in place, and I think they need to be respected as well.”

‘Key initiative,’ says gov’t

In documents submitted to the board, the territory argues the project is within lands transferred to it at devolution.

“The [Government of the Northwest Territories’] decision to reserve land within the area of the land withdrawal order in question is not contrary to the terms of the land withdrawal order,” it read.

During the final request for ruling, the Northwest Territories Power Corporation and the government of the Northwest Territories said the Gwich’in Land and Water Board should rule that the power corporation “does have a valid right to occupy the land required for the project.”

Agata Gutkowska, a spokesperson for the territory’s Department of Infrastructure, wrote in an email response that the government is committed to the regulatory process as they wait for the decision on the matter.

She wrote that because of the regulatory requirement, the construction for the project has been delayed by about two years.

“The Inuvik wind project is a key initiative under the [government of the Northwest Territories’] 2030 Energy Strategy with the potential to offset approximately three million litres of diesel per year, resulting in $3.4 million in fuel savings,” Gutkowska wrote.