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Smith's Landing chief 'ecstatic' at Teck mega-mine withdrawal

Gerry Cheezie, chief of Smith’s Landing First Nation just south of the NWT border in Alberta, points to a map showing areas of his community’s traditional territory that would be affected by Teck’s Frontier oilsands project. Blair McBride/NNSL photo

Teck Resources Ltd. canceled on Sunday its application to build the massive Frontier oil sands project in northern Alberta.

“I’m ecstatic over that announcement,” Chief Gerry Cheezie of Smith’s Landing First Nation in northern Alberta, told NNSL Media.

“The health of our environment, the health of our planet, the health of our people is more important to me than this project,” he said.

Cheezie has been at the forefront of opposition to the proposal to mine millions of barrels of bitumen in an area near Wood Buffalo National Park and beside the Athabasca River.

The project, estimated to be worth $20.6 billion was slammed by Cheezie out of concerns that toxic pollutants might flow downstream into the Slave River near his community and into Great Slave Lake.

The company confirmed it has withdrawn its application to regulators in a press release issued Sunday.

In a letter to the federal minister of Environment and Climate Change, Teck president Don Lindsay wrote that the company decided to let the application go because Canada doesn't have a framework in place to develop resource extraction projects in harmony with climate change interests.

"Global capital markets are changing rapidly and investors and customers are increasingly looking for jurisdictions to have a framework in place that reconciles resource development and climate change, in order to produce the cleanest possible products," Lindsay wrote. "This does not yet exist here today and, unfortunately, the growing debate around this issue has placed Frontier and our company squarely at the nexus of much broader issues that need to be resolved.

"In that context, it is now evident that there is no constructive path forward for the project."

Lindsay wrote that the company isn't "merely shying away from controversy.

"The nature of our business dictates that a vocal minority will almost inevitably oppose specific developments," he wrote. "We are prepared to face that sort of opposition. Frontier, however, has surfaced a broader debate over climate change and Canada’s role in addressing it. It is our hope that withdrawing from the process will allow Canadians to shift to a larger and more positive discussion about the path forward. Ultimately, that should take place without a looming regulatory deadline."

Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya said in a statement on Monday that he commends Teck for withdrawing its application for the mine.

An anti-Frontier rally that was scheduled to take place on Tuesday in Yellowknife has been cancelled but Yakeleya said that water management and protection are ongoing concerns for Indigenous people.

"(The Alberta/NWT Transboundary Water Agreement) is our shield at the Alberta/NWT border, to help protect the water. Northern governments have to work together to keep that
shield strong and improve it. That is why the Dene Nation is hosting the First Northern Leaders Water Summit in October 2020. This is no time to get complacent."