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Environmental lawyers question FortisBC’s stand in Squamish

Firm hired by local citizens group says District should enforce its jurisdiction on company
Submitted image The proposed Fortis BC Eagle Mountain-Woodfibre Gas Pipeline route. Environmental lawyers say FortisBC still has to seek District of Squamish approval for some of its work in the municipality.

Lawyers for Concerned Residents of Squamish say they do not agree with FortisBC’s argument, expressed in letters to the District in October, that it did not need the District of Squamish’s approval for its pipeline-related geotechnical work done in Squamish during the fall of 2016 and early this year.

The work was to inform the Eagle Mountain-Woodfibre Gas Pipeline route that is required due to the planned Woodfibre LNG plant.

A letter from West Coast Environmental Law to the District was presented to council at its meeting Tuesday night. 

The letter questions, in particular, Fortis’ argument that section 121 of the British Columbia Utilities Commission applies to its project in Squamish. 

“Moreover, even if it does apply, we are of the view that section 121 does not remove the District’s jurisdiction over the pipeline in relation to matters of how and where the project should be built,” reads the letter from Andrew Gage, counsel with West Coast Environmental Law. 

In basic terms, the section says the commission’s approval over a utility’s project overrules municipal authority.

Michael McGillion, who spoke to council on behalf of the Concerned Residents addressed, in particular, the group’s concern about FortisBC’s chosen location for its pipeline compressor station planned for the base of Mount Mulligan outside of the Valleycliffe neighbourhood. 

 “FortisBC wants to install the compressor station on Mount Mulligan in a forested setting, 1.8 kilometres from homes in Squamish,” McGillion said. 

FortisBC chose the Mount Mulligan location after the Squamish Nation chiefs and council and members of the wider community rejected its first location option in Squamish’s business park. 

“Fortis not only wants to use gas for compression instead of the original electrical drive… If the station is too dangerous for an industrial park, it is more dangerous in a forested setting susceptible to wildfires with limited access for firefighting and having three gas turbines running 24 hours a day,” continued McGillion.

McGillion added if there is any problem with the compressor station residents would have to “flee” the area on the only road out of Valleycliffe. 

The submitted letter from the group’s environmental lawyer goes on to reiterate that Section 121 of the BC Utilities Commission Act does not apply to the municipality and that the District has final say over where and how Fortis’ pipeline should be built. 

It recommends that the municipality “seek to enforce” its jurisdiction or “request an interpretation of section 121 from the BC Supreme Court.”

Mayor Patricia Heintzman said she welcomed the environmental lawyers’ opinion, but said FortisBC would likely vehemently fight for jurisdiction in Squamish.  

“Fortis holds their prerogative under the BC Oil and Gas [Commission]… pretty closely and they will likely be very vehement in their opinion that the municipal jurisdiction doesn’t apply,” she said, adding that lawyers’ opinions vary on most issues. 

“We will be looking at where our jurisdiction lies as well, but just a word of caution, legal opinions are opinions and every lawyer has a different opinion.” 

For its part, a representative for FortisBC said they were going to review the information presented at council. 

“We will continue to liaise with our regulators and municipal and regional governments to make sure we comply with all applicable legislation, bylaws and regulations,” said FortisBC spokesman Trevor Wales in an email Wednesday. “We are also committed to ongoing engagement with local First Nations, stakeholders and the community as the project proceeds.”