The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District is seeking an opinion from the province regarding a proposed Britannia Beach work camp that has stirred up polarizing opinions among locals.
On April 25, the regional district board voted in favour of asking B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office, or EAO, for feedback on the 500-to-550-person temporary camp.
LandSea Camp Services has applied to the regional district for a three-year temporary use permit that would allow them to build those accommodations on the Tigerbay — formerly known as the Taicheng or Makin — lands in Britannia Beach south.
Should the permit be granted, there's a possibility of renewing it for another three years.
If the EAO determines the project is inappropriate for the area, SLRD chair Tony Rainbow said the regional district will heed that advice.
"If we get kind of directive, it won't go ahead," said Rainbow, though he added that he didn't think the EAO would find issues.
"We're talking about a land-use issue, and I don't think we really contravene anything that the EAO has done, but we'll see — they'll give us an opinion on that."
Staff will continue to process the application, but the board will hold off on any further decisions until it hears from the EAO.
LandSea is not affiliated with Woodfibre LNG or FortisBC, but is hoping to house their workers for the upcoming LNG project that's expected to be built in Howe Sound.
Environmental activist group My Sea to Sky is hailing the SLRD's decision as a win — at least for now.
My Sea to Sky has urged the EAO to include the work camp as part of the LNG facility's environmental assessment. They also lobbied the SLRD on April 25 to hold off on approving the project.
Woodfibre previously said in their 2015 application they would not provide work camps to accommodate their employees.
However, since a work camp could be constructed to accommodate their workers, My Sea to Sky maintains that the environmental assessment should take the camp into account.
The anti-Woodfibre group has been campaigning to have the EAO suspend the environmental certificates of the projects until the impact of the camp has been assessed.
"Both Woodfibre LNG and Fortis stated that they didn't need a work camp, and since that has fundamentally changed, it needs to be properly assessed," said Tracey Saxby, executive director of My Sea to Sky.
"We're not for or against, we're just saying that it needs to be properly assessed."
Saxby also said that her group is questioning whether Britannia Beach is the right place to host Woodfibre and FortisBC's employees.
"A work camp may be the best solution to house these workers," said Saxby.
"The question is: is this the right location?"
Saxby repeated suggestions previously made by Britannia residents.
She said the camp could either be put on the Woodfibre site or workers could be accommodated on a cruise ship anchored close to the LNG project.
On the other hand, LandSea president Mike Coyne said he didn't agree with the notion of connecting the work camp to the Woodfibre and Fortis environmental assessments.
"I don't think it's appropriate given our application is to develop a workforce accommodation solution for major projects and developments in the region to mitigate a lack of housing," said Coyne.
He said this camp would prevent workers from flooding the Squamish and Britannia rental markets.
As a result, this could keep rent prices from dramatically increasing and prevent a worsening of the region's current housing crisis, he added.
With respect to criticisms regarding the location of the camp, Coyne stood by his choice of Britannia Beach south.
"The location we have chose[n] is the most suitable location in this region for an accommodation project like ours," said Coyne.
"We're very much interested in utilizing local workers ourselves, purchasing local supplies, working with local contractors or subcontractors, and this site and this location allows us to create the greatest benefit back to the community."
Finally, Coyne added that his company has been working to address the numerous concerns that were raised in a previous public information session.
More highway traffic, increased crime, noise, pollution, general nuisance and the further burdening of first responders were all concerns that were raised by residents.
"Now that we know what the concerns are with the community of Britannia and those in Squamish, we can ensure that we resolve any of those issues and concerns as we move forward," Coyne said.
"I think just being open and upfront and willing to resolve and address any concerns is the important part here."
Back to the SLRD, Rainbow echoed that a work camp could prevent an influx of workers from driving up local rental prices.
"I'm not in favour of camps to replace long-term housing, but I do see the value of this camp for two main reasons," he said.
"One — I can see the lack of a camp having a really bad effect on rental accommodations in Britannia and in Squamish. And, two — having a camp there gives us access to quite a lot of money to help improve our community."
Rainbow said there was a chance that amenities, such as a new dock, could be negotiated.
He pointed out that a new dock for Britannia would benefit more than just people who own boats.
It could receive tours from Vancouver, which could boost the local economy. The fire department could also use a funding boost, Rainbow said.
He said he'll be looking for a list of promised amenities from the company.
It's unclear what will happen to the proposed camp should Woodfibre and Fortis fail to pull through.
Previously, the company said it would only build its camp should the LNG project go ahead.
However, Coyne told The Chief that if another employer expressed a need for local worker housing, LandSea would consider building the camp regardless if the LNG project happened.
"If there is another major project that occurs in this region, or development in the region that expresses enough interest in a facility like this, it could go ahead," Coyne said.
On the other hand, Rainbow said he was playing with the idea of creating an agreement that would make the camp's existence dependent on getting Woodfibre's business.
"I think we can write bylaw, which basically says, ‘We'll give permissions for the camp, if Woodfibre signs a contract with the proponent,'" said Rainbow.
"And if Woodfibre declined to do that, then the camp doesn't get built, because we don't want a camp there that is just fishing for business."