Naikun partnership resoundingly rejected by Haida

  • Dec. 12, 2011 9:00 a.m.

Haida Nation president Guujaaw says the nation will not be getting into the wind farm business, after citizens rejected a partnership with NaiKun Wind Energy Group in a vote Saturday (Dec. 10). Almost three-quarters voted no to the question on the ballot, with the bulk of the no vote coming from Old Massett. The ballot asked voters whether they were in favour of HaiCo, the Haida Nation’s business arm, entering a partnership with Naikun to produce electricity from offshore wind in Hecate Strait. Guujaaw said he himself was in favour of the project, but only if the people wanted it. “The people have voted on it and that’s the decision we will live with,” he said. “We will go with the people’s decision.” Although there was a good business case to be made for the wind farm investment, he said, it was a much bigger project than anything the Haida people had ever considered before, involving millions of dollars. The financial risks were a concern for many of the no voters, said Old Massett resident Daphne White, although many were also motivated by environmental concerns. “I wasn’t surprised, it turned out pretty much the way I thought it would,” she said. “I was pretty happy, pretty relieved.” The vote was only on the issue of whether the Haida should enter a business partnership with NaiKun. It’s unclear whether the results mean that Haida Nation support for the project will be abandoned altogether, Daphne White said. If the wind farm somehow goes ahead despite Saturday’s vote, “there’s a lot of people ready to protest,” she said. The no voters are not against green energy, she said, but believe there are other solutions than putting 500 turbines in the rich fishing grounds of Hecate Strait. They were worried about how the wind farm would affect the sea bed, the marine ecosystem, marine animals and birds. Lisa White, until last week a member of the Old Massett Village Council, said she was very happy with the result. “We really avoided a huge risk to our nation, both financially and environmentally,” she said. Lisa White said she was not surprised that most of the voters were Old Massett residents, as they would have been the most affected by the project. “We feel like it’s in our area, a lot of our people survive on the clams and the seafood that comes from out there,” she said. “We don’t know what that kind of large-scale industrial development will do to our way of life here.” The people of Old Massett are not opposed to green energy, she said. In fact, the village has been working on a plan to generate electricity with a small number of land-based windmills, which would displace the diesel generating station. However, there has been no call yet from BC Hydro for proposals to supply power for Haida Gwaii. In Vancouver, NaiKun Wind Energy president and chief executive Michael O’Connor said he had not followed the local debate closely, but was somewhat surprised at the amount of opposition. However, whether the Haida Nation invests in the project is not a pressing concern at the moment, as NaiKun does not have a contract with BC Hydro and it’s unclear how the project will proceed in the future, he said. “We don’t have an order,” he said. “If we had an order from BC Hydro… we’d be actively pursuing partners.” The wind farm does have environmental approvals and permits in place and is ready to go ahead if it gets the opportunity, Mr. O’Connor said. The final result was 505 no votes, 181 yes votes, and 10 spoiled ballots, with a total of 695 votes cast. Voter turnout was by far the highest in Old Massett, where 308 people voted no and 52 voted yes. In Skidegate, the only community where a majority voted in favour, there were 92 yes votes and 75 no votes. In Prince Rupert, 65 people voted no and 14 voted yes, while in Vancouver 57 voted no and 23 voted yes.

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