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Squamish Anti-Woodfibre group demonstrates during project update

Woodfibre, Fortis and the BC Oil and Gas Commission present timelines and employment plans
Demonstrators at Squamish municipal hall held red inflatable plastic balls that spelled out "Climate Emergency" on Nov. 12.

As Squamish council held meetings with representatives from Woodfibre, Fortis BC and the BC Oil and Gas Commission, more than two dozen anti-Woodfibre protestors made their voices heard.

During council’s Nov. 12 committee of the whole meeting, the demonstrators chanted anti-LNG slogans outside municipal hall before entering council chambers. Many of them held bright red inflatable plastic balls with letters that, put together, spelled “Climate Emergency.”

“How is this project even viable over a 25 or 40 year lifetime when we’re facing a climate emergency?” said My Sea to Sky’s Tracey Saxby, who organized the protest. She was referring to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 10-year deadline to avoid catastrophic climate change.

It was the first time — at least in recent memory — that representatives from Woodfibre, Fortis and the BC Oil and Gas Commission appeared before council at the same meeting.

Gord Schoberg, the senior manager of municipal and community relations for Fortis, told councillors that at the peak of the project, there will be roughly 550 workers building the Eagle Mountain-Woodfibre gas pipeline.

About 200 people will be working on the underground pipeline tunnel, with half at each endpoint. One hundred will be at Woodfibre and another 100 at the BC Rail’s site at Government Road.

Fortis has previously said the nine-kilometre tunnel would prevent the pipeline from damaging environmentally sensitive areas such as the Squamish Estuary Wildlife Management Area.

About 300 people will be building the pipeline itself. The majority of these workers will be located in Indian River Valley, where most of the construction will take place, Schoberg said.

Pipeline work will be seasonal, peaking in the summer and slowing during the winter, he said.

Workers will also be at the compressor station, which may be at the Woodfibre site. The station is approved for Mount Mulligan, but widespread feedback has caused the company to reconsider that location.

Schoberg said the company has been consulting the community on topics such as worker accommodations.

“Local hiring will offset the need for additional workforce accommodations, say in a construction work camp,” he said.

Inside council chambers, Saxby complained about what she called a lack of transparency.

She said on one occasion in Valleycliffe, Fortis employees told her they were working only on water lines but later said they were doing work for the Eagle Mountain-Woodfibre pipeline.

Saxby added that residents on Finch Drive only received a letter about the work on Oct. 30, about two months after surveying had started.

“From our perspective, that’s not acceptable if people were hearing the wrong information from a contractor doing work on a Fortis project,” said Vanessa Connolly, senior manager of external affairs at Fortis.

“So if that did take place, as you say, which we believe, we’ll take that away and ensure it doesn’t happen again. We are working to be proactive. We’re trying to get the word out.”

Mayor Karen Elliott told Woodfibre representatives she was concerned that Fortis appears to be working on a different timeline.

“Since you can’t exist without their project, shouldn’t we be waiting for all of their details to be confirmed before you get your final targets?” asked Elliott.

Allie Meeres of Woodfibre responded that the projects are independent.

A lot of Woodfibre’s work is done off site, while all of Fortis’s work is here, she said.

Much of the modules for LNG projects are built overseas and brought in by barge, said Rob Mingay, Woodfibre LNG’s vice-president of corporate affairs.

Elliott, however, questioned the two companies’ efforts to distance themselves from each other.

“I think it’s vitally important for you to hear that you are one project with Fortis in our community’s eyes,” she said.

“We hear you loud and clear and your comments are not going on deaf ears, so allow us to respond,” said Mingay.

Meeres added that recent community tables were held back-to-back with Woodfibre and Fortis meetings as a result.

The last to the table were representatives from the BC Oil and Gas Commission.

Elliott said she was concerned the commission approved the Woodfibre project while the details about the Fortis pipeline are still being worked out.

“The risk being, it looks like a rubber stamp if you keep issuing permits to Woodfibre without any certainty yet,” she said, adding not all details about the pipeline have been finalized.

Mayka Kennedy, executive vice-president, chief engineer of the commission, said there were no obstacles to granting a permit.

It was approved with the condition that the gas will have to be supplied, Kennedy said.