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Questions about traffic, environment and safety aimed at FortisBC

Valleycliffe-Hospital Hill residents expressed concerns about proposed construction yard and work camp.

Valleycliffe and Hospital Hill residents had pointed questions for officials of FortisBC, who were holding a public information meeting about their proposed construction yard and work camp.

On June 6, residents of the neighourhood brought forth concerns about traffic, dust, helicopters, violence against women, environmental degradation, and more.

The meeting was concerning the proposed construction yard behind Valleycliffe on the Mamquam River Forest Service Road. Also up for discussion was a proposed worker camp accessible by travelling further down the FSR to Power House Springs Road, up to a site southeast of Quest University. The camp will house up to 600 workers.

These projects are part of FortisBC’s Eagle Mountain-Woodfibre Gas Pipeline, which will be supplying natural gas to the Woodfibre LNG site.

The first major issue brought forth was traffic, which was discussed for a considerable amount of time.

Residents expressed concern that a large number of workers and heavy machinery would be travelling up the Mamquam River Forest Service Road, kicking up dust, clogging the highway intersection and creating safety concerns.

“If you’ve ever tried to drive into [the] FSR off the highway — if you’ve got trailers, goods vehicles, the public…just driv[ing] up that road willy-nilly whenever they want, [as well as] the people that are visiting the [Squamish Canyon] project [going] into one small turn off the highway…it is only a matter of time until there’s an accident. I guarantee it,” said Philippa Clark, a Valleycliffe resident.

The Squamish Canyon project she was referring to is a separate recreational venture that was approved by the municipality. It’s expected to construct eco-tourism facilities that will showcase the Mamquam River Falls.

Its proponent, Robin Sherry, also had concerns about the number of workers moving through the forest service road and Highway 99.

“Six hundred vehicles at one point will be right beside their house at the camp, right?” said Sherry. “And you expect these guys to get in the truck, or get in the shuttle, go to town, do their running around, and come back in when they’re fully allowed to get in their truck and go?”

He also asked if any engineering studies had been done on the intersection, and FortisBC officials replied that, to their knowledge, none had been done.

FortisBC officials were answering questions from Valleycliffe-Hospital Hill residents on June 6. Steven Chua/The Squamish Chief

Fortis officials said that while there will be 600 workers, that will only be during the peak of construction. The forest service road will not be the only means to transport heavy machinery, they added.

They also addressed some questions about the construction yard’s proximity to salmon-bearing waters, by saying that they would be bound by strict environmental regulations. The utility is governed by the provincial Environmental Assessment Office, as well as the Squamish Nation, they said.

“With the Squamish Nation we have signed…what’s referred to as the Squamish Nation Environmental Assessment Agreement,” said Darrin Marshall, FortisBC’s director for the Eagle Mountain – Woodfibre Gas project. 

“So that establishes Squamish Nation as an environmental regulator on our project. Over the past number of years, we have an established structure with them whereby we work collaboratively with them to address project quality impacts.”

Fortis officials also said there would only be helicopters on site if medical emergencies occurred.

During the meeting, there were also a handful of demonstrators from My Sea to Sky who unfurled a banner denouncing the proposed pipeline to Woodfibre LNG.

“Woodfibre has given you guys money to move this work camp option forward, right? They paid you to get this through the next stage of the process?” asked Tracey Saxby, head of the activist organization.

Marshall said that was correct, but declined to comment on how much Woodfibre paid.

Many in the audience also said that Fortis should create a legacy project that would give the community some sort of amenity for the trouble.

A popular suggestion was permanent affordable housing. This would help reduce the amount of workers in the camp, and create residents who would invest in the local economy, attendees said.

Audience members had concerns about traffic, environmental degradation and safety during the meeting. Steven Chua/The Squamish Chief

Another major issue was women’s safety. 

Work camps have a reputation for being associated with sex trafficking and sexual assault, said Sue Brown, a staff lawyer and director at an organization called Justice For Girls.

“We know that when the camps are coming back for their seasonal shifts, sexual assault crisis centres stock rape kits — they put calls out for rape kits — because they know that violence, sexual violence, sex trafficking follows the camps,” said Brown.

Brown also said these camps put vulnerable women, especially Indigenous women, at risk.

Fortis officials said that its workers would have to adhere to a code of conduct both on and off the job site, and that there would be private security at the camps. Contractors would enforce those rules. Fortis also said they’d been consulting with Howe Sound Women’s Centre and Sea to Sky Community Services. 

After the meeting, Brown told The Squamish Chief that to date, there haven’t been any successful examples of work camps that have eliminated violence against women, especially Indigenous women.

It is extremely hard or impossible to get accurate reporting or accountability in the camps, she said.

“There’s absolutely no accountability,” said Brown. “There’s no data, no statistics, no federal or provincial regulatory obligations on preparations to track violence that’s associated with the camps. All we have [is] anecdotal evidence.”

Marshall also had a few words to share with The Squamish Chief once the meeting was finished.

“I think today was all about listening to the community,” he said. “We’re in the very early stages of our proposal for the workforce lodge and for the construction laydown area. We heard some great feedback tonight. Many of the concerns, I think, are typical for large construction projects, but others are somewhat nuanced, as well, and specific to the area.”

Mayor Karen Elliott was also in attendance, along with several municipal councillors and District staff.

Fortis will need a temporary use permit from the District if it wants the construction yard or work camp to happen.

“I think [with] any temporary use permit, you have to look at the impacts on the community,” said Elliott. “One of the things that Fortis has to provide is a community services and infrastructure management plan. We feel like their draft, so far, doesn’t doesn’t meet the bar of understanding the impacts of the project [on] the community. And, so, our staff will have a pre-application meeting with Fortis.”

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