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Fortis drilling on hold

Council defers decision on test boreholes in estuary

There will be no drilling in the Squamish estuary, for now. 

For the second time, Squamish council used deferral – the only legal loophole it could employ – to not grant the development permit application to FortisBC to conduct geotechnical testing in the estuary.

About 150 people, the vast majority opposed to the application, packed municipal hall for the vote Tuesday night at the District of Squamish regular business council meeting.

The permit was originally deferred Nov. 4 until the provincial government gave the test sites the go-ahead, which it has since done. 

For many in the audience, the temporary borehole drilling, which will determine if horizontal directional drilling can be used to install a natural gas pipeline for the proposed Woodfibre LNG plant planned for Squamish, is Ground Zero in the fight against liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the province.

Activist Delena Angrignon of the anti-LNG group My Sea To Sky was one of many who urged council to outright reject the application.

“We are concerned about public safety, we are concerned about the environment aspect of it and the regional economy and with tourism and recreation,” she said. 

“Woodfibre LNG hasn’t been approved, so the fact that we are moving forward with potentially permitting [FortisBC] to go into the estuary, which is part of the Wildlife Management Plan that is covered in the Squamish Estuary Plan… we don’t even think they should be moving forward right now until the whole Woodfibre environmental assessment process is complete.” 

The vote was deferral on a motion by new Councillor Karen Elliott, who said she didn’t feel she had enough information to make a decision.

Although councillors Ted Prior, Jason Blackman-Wulff and Doug Race all said they would support granting the permit out of concern over the legal ramifications of rejecting it, only Race voted against the deferral.

“We have a duty to be fair. This application has met the regulations,” said Race. He said he has heard from many in the community that council should be making an anti-LNG statement to the provincial and federal governments by turning down the permit, even though council is legally obligated to pass it, but he said that would be a mistake. 

“That is not a free shot. If we turn down this application, there will be consequences… and those consequences will impact the District of Squamish and the taxpayers of the District of Squamish,” he said. 

Race said the district would end up in court and taxpayers would have to pay legal fees and possibly damages. 

The deferral will hold until the next regular council business meeting planned for Jan. 20.

Fortis has been asked to answer questions at a committee of the whole meeting, tentatively Jan. 13.

Les McDonald, who is making a documentary about the fight over the Woodfibre LNG plan, said he thought both those for and opposed to the drilling walked away with mixed feelings. 

“I think both sides are probably disappointed and both sides are kind of happy,” he said.  “What is really clear is that I think the community doesn’t agree that the pipeline route as proposed is the best for the community.”

FortisBC spokesman Trevor Boudreau said he hoped some of those in the audience opposed to the drilling would come by the Squamish Fortis and Woodfibre LNG community office on Cleveland Avenue to discuss the project. 

The office was recently vandalized, with NO spray-painted in red on the front window.

Please note, this story has been corrected since its original posting. The FortisBC natural gas pipeline was wrongly referred to as a liquefied natural gas pipeline in the original posting. 

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