Andy Cooper, who worked for 14 years at the Woodfibre pulp mill that closed its doors in 2006, may well wind up working on the same, 86-hectare (212-acre) property again in the future — but in an entirely different capacity.
Cooper, now a longshoreman, was one of more than 100 people who turned out for an open house last Wednesday (Feb. 5) for the Woodfibre liquefied natural gas (LNG) processing and export facility at Howe Sound Inn and Brewing Co.
While he admitted he may have a “vested interest” in seeing the project go ahead, Cooper said he came out at least partly to provide input and help ensure that if the project goes ahead, it’s done right.
“This, obviously, would bring jobs and some tax base, and those are two things we really need in this town,” Cooper said as he turned away from one of the information placards arrayed around the crowded room.
Even so, he said, “You like to see that due diligence is done in the management of the place. So far they [Woodfibre Natural Gas, the project proponent] seem to be putting on a pretty good presentation in seeking the public’s input.”
The open house was just one of a series of events being staged this month by the proponents, who have submitted a preliminary project description to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA). Byng Giraud, Woodfibre Natural Gas vice-president of corporate affairs, said a Feb. 4 small-group meeting in Squamish drew 30 people including Mayor Rob Kirkham and SLRD Area D director Mo Freitag. A similar event in West Vancouver drew 17 people, while seven people showed up at another meeting last week in Whistler.
At last Wednesday’s event, Squamish business owner Murray Sovereign said he showed up to learn more about a project that will undoubtedly be “contentious.”
While he hadn’t yet formulated an opinion on whether it would be good for the community, Sovereign said, “Anytime you’re dealing with fossil fuels, there are going to be issues with air quality from off-gassing, and the question of whether they use hydro [electricity] or natural gas to power the facility is obviously going to be key.”
Giraud, who earlier announced that the proponents hope to use electricity to power the facility — which could well reduce the operation’s impact on the region’s airshed — said the company must make that determination by this summer, when they expect to submit their full application to the CEAA.
B.C. Hydro is preparing a System Impact Study on that question, Giraud said. The study will attempt to determine the logistical and financial implications of hooking up the facility to the power grid, he said.
“We have stated a preference
Also still to be determined is the amount of taxes such a facility — which is within the District of Squamish boundaries — would pay. The Woodfibre pulp mill paid more than $2 million in taxes a year to DOS coffers. The B.C. government is still working on a taxation formula for such facilities, Giraud said.
When news of the Woodfibre LNG proposal first broke in March 2013, proponents estimated that a fully operational facility would employ between 50 and 100 people. Last week, Giraud said it’s now anticipated that the number would be at the top end of that range, with employees working around the clock in “three or four” shifts.
One question has come up during the latest round of public meetings that proponents hadn’t anticipated, Giraud said is: How would LNG plant emergency response crews co-ordinate with other first responders in the event of a spill or other emergency?
“We had anticipated that we’d pretty much have to be self-contained, but the notion of integrating with other [emergency response teams] in the community — we frankly hadn’t thought of that,” he said. “Clearly, we’ll have to look at that question.”
Meanwhile, the Woodfibre property is still owned by Western Forest Products, pending the completion of a number of conditions, said WFP representative Rick Kormendy. The key condition is environmental remediation of the site, which Kormendy said he expects to be completed by the end of 2014.
If the sale goes ahead, the 1.7-megawatt micro-hydro facility on Woodfibre Creek would become the property of the new owners, Kormendy said.
Woodfibre Natural Gas has consulted with tourism leaders, including the company building the Sea to Sky Gondola, on efforts to minimize the visual impacts of the LNG facility. Giraud said that might include landscaping portions of the property that aren’t built on.
As well, the company is exploring the feasibility of allowing backcountry access for recreational users, which might include “the construction of a jetty and check-in facility or a through ferry from downtown Squamish,” according to one of the placards.
Fortis B.C. has applied for environmental certification on a proposed expansion of the company’s existing natural gas pipeline to serve the Woodfibre facility. Carol Greaves, Fortis B.C. community relations manager, said she expects a decision “in the coming weeks” on the final pipeline route and the location of a compressor station on the Squamish end of the Coquitlam-to-Squamish line. Those details must be included in the company’s application to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office, she said.
Environmental groups have voiced concerns about the pipeline routing, particularly the impact of having a second pipeline crossing the sensitive Squamish Estuary. The existing line crosses the estuary before running under the Squamish River.
Further public input is to be sought as part of the CEAA application process. The proponents have said that if all approvals come through, the plant could begin operating by 2017.
“This is only Round 1,” Giraud said of the input process. “The regulators are going to make us consult, and we’ll be back again on our own.”
Another open house is planned Saturday (Feb. 15) from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Executive Suites Hotel and Resort.
For more information, including a comment form, visit www.woodfibrelngproject.ca