01/17/2014 11:40 EST | Updated 03/19/2014 05:59 EDT

Lillooet First Nation blocks work it says could threaten salmon runs

LILLOOET, B.C. - Members of a First Nation in Lillooet, B.C., have set up a blockade near that Fraser River district to protest work they believe is destroying fish habitat on disputed land.

Sekw'el'was Chief Michelle Edwards said the blockade on Cayoose Creek, at the mouth of the Seton River, on Lillooet's southern outskirts, began at 7 a.m. Friday.

There's no indication when it could be removed, but Edwards said traffic on nearby Highway 99 is not affected and members are only halting hired contractors at the work site.

She said the District of Lillooet has fast-tracked construction of a water intake on land claimed by the Sekw'el'was, although it knows the project will be appealed to the provincial Environmental Appeal Board.

Edwards said the damage is not yet irreversible, but warned the work has the potential to wipe out spawning beds and incubating eggs in a section of Cayoose Creek used by coho, steelhead, chinook, pink, sockeye and bull trout.

Many First Nations along the Seton and Fraser rivers rely on those salmon runs and, as caretakers of the watershed, the Sekw'el'was must protect the fish, she said.

"We've been working on it for years with BC Hydro and even in my own community," she said. "We have been stewards to this river for the past several years in making sure that the habitat is intact, that the river stays clean. And this one little intake could totally destroy everything that we have done."

Lillooet Mayor Dennis Bonstron said he doesn't believe the municipality had a regulatory obligation to consult with the band.

"Our process, generally, is to contact all the various government agencies and put forward to them our requests for the various permits necessary for that, and they set the criteria. And we would, of course, follow their criteria to the letter of the law."

Bonstron said he will speak to his council next week to determine whether they will reach out to the First Nation in an effort to put an end to the action. (The Canadian Press, CFJC)