A comprehensive management plan for Howe Sound is needed to guide future decisions in the face of “major” proposals such as the liquefied natural gas (LNG) processing and export facility that’s envisioned at the site of the old Woodfibre pulp mill, a regional environmental group says.
The “fragile” recovery of the Howe Sound ecosystem is threatened by proposals such as Burnco Rock Products’ proposed aggregate mine at McNab Creek and Pacific Energy Corp.’s recent LNG proposal, Jeff Gau, Future of Howe Sound Society (FHSS) spokesperson, told The Chief on Monday (March 11).
The proposal at McNab Creek, 23 kilometres southwest of Squamish, and the Woodfibre LNG plan are just two examples of projects whose potential impacts would cross jurisdictional boundaries and therefore require a region-wide decision-making approach, Gau said.
For the past couple of years, FHSS members have been visiting municipal halls, First Nations leaders and others, attempting to garner support for a comprehensive management plan to help guide the future Howe Sound. So far they’ve managed to secure expressions of support in principle for the idea but as yet, no firm commitment to participate in the development of such a plan, Gau said.
Representatives of local, provincial and federal governments and First Nations are invited to the Future of Howe Sound Forum planned on April 13 in West Vancouver, Gau said. Organized by FHSS, one of the forum’s objectives is to determine “a way forward for a comprehensive management plan that takes into consideration the airshed, watersheds, marine environment and the surrounding lands” of Howe Sound, organizers say.
The McNab aggregate proposal is currently undergoing a blended federal/provincial environmental review, while Woodfibre LNG proponents are in the process of presenting their plan to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office.
Gau said at least two LNG proposals, including one at McNab Creek, have been put forward in the past. There’s an urgent need for the region’s diverse interests to come together to ensure regional co-operation when these sorts of proposals arise.
“This repeated series of proposals for heavy new industry in Howe Sound, we believe, underscores the need for a comprehensive management plan put in place for the Howe Sound region,” he said.
As an example of the current piecemeal approach, he said Sunshine Coast Regional District has a document called “We Envision” that sets forth a set of ecosystem management objectives. But the document’s reach stops at the north end of the Howe Sound Pulp and Paper mill at Port Mellon, he said.
“There have been hundreds of millions spent on remediation of Howe Sound, and there’s been a significant recovery of the sound, but it’s very fragile and it’s not a given that the overall recovery will not be put in jeopardy by heavy, new industry.
“This [Woodfibre LNG] is clearly a large project. We don’t know a lot about it, but there’s certainly potential for impacts such as what I’ve outlined and we have concerns about those potential impacts.”
Though Gau didn’t want to get into specific concerns about the potential impacts of the Woodfibre LNG project, former Squamish councillor Meg Fellowes did. She told The Chief on Friday (March 8) that the “re-industrialization” of the Woodfibre site has the potential to threaten ongoing efforts to restore the sound to environmental health after decades of degradation, most of it the result of heavy industry.
The struggle to clean up the sound began well before the Woodfibre mill closed in 2006, she said, but has become much more evident since that time, Fellowes said.
Thanks in large measure to the efforts of groups such as Squamish Streamkeepers, who have worked diligently to restore the herring spawn to its former glory, dolphins and even whales have been seen at the head of Howe Sound. Tens of millions of dollars spent on water-quality remediation has also resulted in the restoration of the salmon run on Britannia Creek, she said.
Any sort of discharge from a future Woodfibre LNG plant, or from tanker ships serving the facility, has the potential to wipe out those gains in a matter of hours, she said.
“There’s air quality, water quality — we’ve seen great improvements in those two, and I think there’s legitimate concern about re-industrialization of that site and its impacts,” Fellowes said.
Jack Cooley of the Squamish Steamkeepers wrote in a group email sent out on Wednesday (March 13) that the announcement of the Woodfibre LNG proposal is a good time to remind people that the western shore of Howe Sound “is prime spawning area from late January until early April and needs to be protected.”
“This doesn’t mean nothing can be done in this area; it means consideration has to be given for this important species, even if they can’t be seen from the surface.”
Fellowes said that with Squamish in an earthquake zone, local citizens should also raise questions about the potential safety risks from, say, a ruptured natural gas pipeline serving the Woodfibre site, or from an on-site mishap that might result in a fire or even an explosion.
As well, “I’m just so concerned about the future of migratory birds and the addition of light would have an impact there. It’s an issue that I don’t think we’ve dealt with too effectively,” she said.
Gau said the Howe Sound restoration efforts have contributed to the growth of clean industries such as outdoor recreation, tourism and filming.
“The [potential return] of heavy industry is putting at risk the new economy that’s developing, particularly tourism,” he said. “We’ve been told by the growing film industry that they won’t be interested in bringing filming to the region if there’s heavy industry including potential environmental degradation or excessive noise as a backdrop in Howe Sound.”