**Updated** Judge sides with Mi'kmaq band on Alton gas-storage project appeal

A Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge has quashed the province's rejection of an appeal by a Mi'kmaq band related to the Alton natural gas storage project.

The Sipekne'katik First Nation argues Alton Natural Gas Storage's plan to flush out salt to create storage caverns near Stewiacke poses an environmental risk to the nearby Shubenacadie River.

In a written decision released Monday, Justice Suzanne Hood ruled the band was denied procedural fairness when the province refused the band's request to review and respond to reports on the project by the Nova Scotia Office of Aboriginal Affairs and the Environment Department.

Specifically, Hood says the band was repeatedly denied access to a 30-page interim report written by provincial environment project leader Glen Warner and submitted to Environment Minister Margaret Miller on the same date she denied the band's appeal in April 2016.

Hood says the matter has been sent back to Miller to allow the band an opportunity to review Warner's report and material from the Office of Aboriginal Affairs "on which Warner relied."

The judge also ruled she doesn't have the authority to grant a stay of the province's industrial approval of the project, and concluded that it was unnecessary for her to deal with the issue of the province's duty to consult.

In a statement released Monday afternoon, the company behind the project said it respects the court's decision, and will work with the province and the First Nation community to understand next steps.

"We remain committed to the project and to working closely with members of the Mi'kmaq community regarding environmental protection and community benefits," reads the statement from Alberta-based AltaGas Ltd.

"The Industrial Approval remains in effect for Alton and the Court did not issue a stay against further project work."

AltaGas says it has been meeting with stakeholders – including landowners, community members, government and members of the Mi'kmaq community – since 2006 to share information and exchange viewpoints.

"We commit to ongoing, open dialogue with all stakeholders about Alton, the Project's environmental and safety safeguards, and opportunities Alton presents for Nova Scotians," the company said.

With files from Bell Media's Brad Perry