VANCOUVER -- Indigenous leaders in British Columbia are reacting to Thursday's disappointment in the Supreme Court of Canada by pledging to pursue new legal challenges against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which is quietly under construction in the Lower Mainland.

Pipeline opponents were dismayed to learn the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a previous ruling that found Ottawa's 2019 approval of the project was sound, marking the end of a hard-fought battle.

But the Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Coldwater Indian Band told journalists that while they’ve reached the end of the line in their legal challenge around meaningful consultation and accommodation, particularly regarding environmental concerns, they will be back in court with other challenges to try and quash the project.

"This case is about more than just a risky pipeline and a tanker project,” said Chief Judy Wilson. “It is a major setback for reconciliation. It reduces consultation to a purely procedural requirement."

When asked whether protests and other out-of-court options were under consideration by First Nations leaders, Wilson would only answer for herself.

“I don’t personally plan to do any protests outside the court, but I can’t promise the same for other people who believe in what we believe in or stand against the TMX project,” she said. “We will always go to court with clean hands.”

The controversial project, which would double the existing decades-old Trans Mountain pipeline, was bought by the federal government last year to facilitate more fossil fuel transportation from near Edmonton to a tanker terminal in Burnaby; tankers already take Alberta petroleum products to Asian markets from there. Support for the twinned TMX pipeline has been dropping since costs skyrocketed to more than $12 billion.

The BC Union of Indian Chiefs is urging federal decision-makers to axe the project and invest the money elsewhere, particularly now that the economy is being whipped in different directions by the pandemic, with commodity prices dropping.

"It doesn't make a lot of economic sense to continue," said Wilson, who also suggested that online rallies and support for Indigenous communities opposed to the project could once again take to the streets.

“I can't predict what's going to happen, but I'll say it's already happened in the past and we've seen what happened with Wetsuweten Strong and that went nationally, as well,” said the UBCIC spokesperson. “There was already some indications that Wetsuweten Strong was a precursor to what would be happening with Trans Mountain."

B.C. Premier John Horgan weighed in hours after the appeal was dismissed, telling reporters that “litigation has run its course” and that while he continues to oppose the project, he’s changing gears.

“My focus now is to make sure our coast has got every available protection in place for the increase of tanker traffic that will inevitably come from a completed pipeline project," said Horgan. “That means working with the federal government who are now the proponent of the pipeline to make sure they understand British Columbia has every expectation that every measure that can be taken will be taken to protect our coast and the economy that goes with that.”

Work on the pipeline has continued throughout the legal process, with more than a dozen sites listed on the Crown corporation’s website as under construction from Burnaby to Chilliwack.

Most of them are construction yards and stockpile sites, but intense work is underway in Burnaby at the Westridge Marine Terminal where “Construction activity includes pile driving and other in-water construction to construct three new shipping berths and a foreshore extension for new infrastructure and buildings, construction of new in-water rock habitat areas for fish, and a new utility dock including a new float and steel gangway for support vessels.”

Construction on a seven-kilometre stretch of the pipeline itself near Kamloops also began one month ago.

“Following the Federal Government’s second approval of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project and many years of consultation and regulatory reviews, we are pleased to continue building this nationally important Project,” said Ian Anderson, president and CEO of Trans Mountain Corporation in an online statement.

The 980-kilometre expansion project is touted as employing 5,500 people at its peak, with $46.7 billion in revenues going to provincial coffers, according to the TMX website; $5.7 billion of that is expected to go to B.C. over the next 20 years for public services.

For many Indigenous communities and other opponents, those anticipated benefits don’t outweigh the many risks of spills, leaks and other environmental impacts.

“We know, by far, this is not over,” insisted Tsleil-Waututh Sacred Trust spokesperson Rueben George. “It’s been 10 years we’ve been doing this and we will continue.”