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Squamish council critical of FortisBC work camp and construction yard applications

Elected officials say traffic, noise, affordable housing and safety details still need to be resolved.
Map of proposed Squamish FortisBC work camp and yard.

District of Squamish council had some harsh words for FortisBC's applications to create both a temporary construction yard and a worker camp down the Mamquam River Forest Service Road.

On Feb. 14, council provided feedback on the two temporary use permit applications, with most elected officials criticizing the lack of detail in the proposals despite what they called the years of advance notice the company has had with respect to their project.

Temporary use permits, or TUPs, allow for a change in land use that can be good for up to three years, depending on the conditions of the permit. They may be renewed once.

In this case, the permits would allow for the creation of a construction yard and a camp for workers that are intended to support the building of Fortis' Eagle Mountain to Woodfibre pipeline, which would deliver natural gas to the upcoming Woodfibre LNG export facility.

Construction on the pipeline is expected to take place between 2023 and 2026.

Throughout this year, the utility is planning to bring equipment, prepare the site and excavate a tunnel that would allow for pipeline installation.

Other examples of this preparation work include building bridges and culverts, and establishing a laydown yard.

The meeting on Tuesday was an opportunity to comment on the proposed applications for the yard and the camp. Elected officials took that opportunity to outline a laundry list of outstanding problems they saw with both of these proposals.

According to a municipal staff report, the construction yard will be located near Valleycliffe, on a triangular lot owned fee simple by Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation). The proposed yard will be approximately 10.5 acres in size, with an additional 2.6 acres on the east side of Powerhouse Springs Road to be used as parking for the project.

This piece of land is currently zoned as an RS-1 residential zone, and the application seeks to allow it to be used for industrial purposes. The Official Community Plan, or OCP, designated the zone as a resource and recreation area. It's currently outside the District's growth management boundary.

It's anticipated that the yard will be shut during the winter months, the report says. The area is intended to be used as a marshalling area for construction crews at the start and end of each work shift, morning briefings for workers, temporary offices for the project management team, warehousing and storage for project materials and equipment, vehicle and equipment refuelling, and waste management.

It will have an operating schedule of Monday to Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The yard is expected to have 420 parking spaces and bring up to 250 vehicle trips per day.

The other application, which is for a worker lodge or camp, was also presented to council for feedback

It would be accessed by going further down the Mamquam River FSR up Powerhouse Springs Road, past the Powerhouse Springs well area, which provides much of the town's potable water.

It's also close to Quest University, and could be accessed from that end by passing through the Garibaldi Highlands. The area is currently designated a resource zone.

The lodge would be on a seven-hectare property owned by Lafarge Canada and built and operated by ATCO. It would have 576 beds, with a peak of 600 workers in the summer of 2025.

There's also a proposed parking area for 325 stalls, as well as a bus station that would accommodate eight buses.

There will be up to 250 vehicle trips per day, mainly between the camp and the construction yard, concentrated generally in the mornings and evenings.

While the permits were separate items on the council's agenda on Tuesday, many of the elected officials' comments applied to both projects.

Lack of information?

"The proponent has failed yet again to provide the information that we have been asking for for years," said Coun. Jenna Stoner.

"We've been raising these issues of community safety, and how are you going to move your workers around since I've been sitting in this chair for over four years … These concepts are not new. They're not new to this applicant. And so it's really frustrating to see that this is the level of detail that we have been given, and there are no answers to these questions that we've been asking for years."

She was referring to what she considered a lack of detailed answers to address concerns that council has raised, including increased crimes against women in relation to worker camps, traffic on the Mamquam River FSR, noise, light, the impact on tourism accommodations and the impact on housing affordability among a number of other things.

Housing concerns

Coun. Andrew Hamilton noted the town has been struggling with affordable housing for many years. He said Fortis missed a chance to address this need.

"It seems very clear to me that a legacy project with affordable housing would have been an amazing idea — well received," said Hamilton.

"The applicant's representatives have said to me that there's just not enough time to implement that kind of legacy housing. But, I'm sorry — your delay does not produce urgency for me. I still have a responsibility to act in the best interests of my community. And the housing situation that this particular project is putting on our community is untenable."

He was also cognizant of the potential for protests to clog the Mamquam River FSR, creating big traffic problems. Hamilton noted such actions could lead to a significant increase in policing costs that may have to be borne by the municipality.

Hamilton noted the cost of the injunction against Fairy Creek protests cost about $3.7 million to enforce.

He also added that he did not want nearby residents to be exposed to noise from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday for three years.

Work scheduling concerns

Mayor Armand Hurford raised concerns about the scheduling of the work, saying this work-week could cause Saturday evenings to consistently turn into a Wild West.

Hurford said he would like a different work schedule to alleviate capacity issues and provide an environment for better behaviour.

He also noted the proximity of the Powerhouse drinking water well area to the proposal, and asked staff to look into it.

Hurford also cautioned that more workers than expected may show up, as he said he spoke with elected officials in other municipalities that had worker camps, and they generally wound up getting significantly more workers than initially anticipated.

In order to hit tight deadlines, more people might be hired, he noted.

Hurford also added that the number of parking spots isn't adding up when taking into account personal vehicles and work-specific vehicles, among other things.

He also said he was concerned many details about the project have yet to be addressed.

"It is extremely troubling to me that we're sitting here at the 11th hour discussing this," Hurford said.

Alcohol consumption concerns

Coun. Lauren Greenlaw called for the lodge to be alcohol and drug-free and to put a ban on inebriation.

Councillors also asked that workers be barred from driving their personal vehicles to the camp so as to cut down on parking and traffic issues.

Study issue

Coun. Chris Pettingill asked that the District conduct its own environmental impact studies using money from Fortis. He said he did not trust Fortis to do the studies themselves.

Pettingill said he was concerned about the use of the construction yard to store fuel.

"Fortis has to do a much better job on engagement with this, to bring the community on board to understand and to respond to the community's needs," he said. "They have consistently done a terrible job on this."

Regarding the potential protests, he said it was more than just a cost issue with RCMP. He said was uncomfortable with the policing tactics that were used in the Fairy Creek protests, and said FortisBC needs to figure out a way not to be reliant on those types of methods.

End result of the meeting

For the construction yard application, council voted unanimously in favour of sending their feedback to FortisBC. They also directed staff to resolve these issues with the applicant.

Regarding the application for the workers' lodge, council voted 6-1 in favour of sending their feedback to Fortis. They also directed staff to resolve these issues with the applicant. They also asked that the District refrain from holding a public information session on the project until the municipality receives confirmation of the provincial Environmental Assessment Office's decision about Fortis' request to expand its worker camp from two hectares to seven hectares.

Currently, the TUP application before the District assumes Fortis' camp will be seven hectares.

Coun. Eric Andersen was the sole elected official who voted against the council's motion on the workers' lodge. He did not speak to his reason for this specific opposition.

Fortis Responds

In response to a request for comment, FortisBC issued a written statement to The Squamish Chief.

It reads: “Through our extensive consultation process, we listened to feedback from the District of Squamish, stakeholders and members of the community and revised our original plans to increase the size of the proposed temporary workforce lodge for non-local workers on the Eagle Mountain Pipeline Project. We heard from the community that this was the preferred approach to reduce impacts to housing and other local services. We are proposing to locate the construction laydown yard near the temporary workforce lodge to further reduce impacts to the community. We have provided detailed Temporary Use Permit (TUP) applications which available on the District’s website that address impacts to things like housing, traffic, noise, lighting, parking, and safety in the community. We’ve submitted heavily detailed documentation, plans and reports to support our TUP applications. Both facilities have been planned with the specific aim of reducing potential impacts on the Squamish community. We have been working closely with the District of Squamish and will continue to provide more information about our plans as needed for the District to consider these applications. FortisBC is hosting a public information meeting next month where members of the community can learn more about the TUP applications and what we are doing to mitigate impacts. More details will be available soon.”


***Feb. 21: updated with a response from FortisBC

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