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Squamish council scolds Woodfibre LNG over water lease application process

The District of Squamish's elected officials say they were not given enough time or information to make comments on the company's proposal; Woodfibre says engagement has been continuous.
Rendering courtesy Woodfibre LNG

The District of Squamish is opposing an application from Woodfibre LNG that seeks a Crown water lease near the site of its yet-to-be-built liquefied natural gas export facility.

On July 22, council voted unanimously in favour of writing a letter to the Ministry of Forests opposing the request.

The letter is expected to outline a lack of engagement and missing and inconsistent information as the reason.

However, Woodfibre LNG spokesperson Rebecca Scott said that the company regularly seeks input from the public.

"Throughout the history of this project, Woodfibre has prioritized engagement with the Squamish community, working diligently to keep residents involved and informed about our activities and progress," she said in a written statement.

"As always, we remain focused on building a facility that will create high-paying jobs, local economic investment, and continued community social supports that benefit Squamish residents and Squamish Nation members."

In its application, Woodfibre outlined that it needed the water lot lease for activities related to the investigation, construction, operation and decommissioning of the Woodfibre LNG Project.

It would also be used by forest tenure holders, FortisBC and Indigenous groups, the application reads.

Coun. Chris Pettingill, who initiated the motion, said that the information provided in the application was not sufficient and filled with inconsistencies.

"They mention some employment and taxation numbers, and they don't put any explanation behind them," said Pettingill.

"The one in particular is the taxation benefit supposedly at all three levels of government, but it's nearly double what they have on their website."

Woodfibre's website states that during its operation, it will contribute $84 million each year in tax revenue to all three levels of government, including $2 million each year to Squamish.

In the application for the Crown water lot, which was included in council's agenda, Woodfibre says it will be contributing $209.4 million in tax revenue to all three levels of government while it's in operation.

Pettingill also noted, among other things, that the forestry industry appears to think that there's no access to the site, while Woodfibre appears to say there is a possibility of access to the area.

Coun. Eric Andersen said judging from his past conversations with Black Mount Logging and Sqomish Forestry, forestry companies appear to be in regular dialogue with Woodfibre.

Pettingill said that during council's marine rezoning discussions, forestry representatives said they didn't believe the Woodfibre site would be available to them.

Andersen said that he would not support Pettingill's motion during council's discussion, but wound up voting in favour of the motion in the end.

In their reasons for their vote, councillors said their main concern was how either the province or Woodfibre chose to engage the District.

"I think every time we hear about this project, in my experience here, based on similar challenges where lack of consultation and missing information are the sort of [recurring] themes," said Coun. Armand Hurford.

Coun. Doug Race said he had no issue with the application itself, but disapproved of how the province went about informing the District.

"We do need timely information if they expect us to be able to comment," said Race.

"I'm not concerned particularly about the application. It's more or less what was there when the pulp mill was running, I think, and that site has been considerably improved since that time. So that part doesn't concern me, and I'll go on record saying that. But the process is concerning."

Coun. Jenna Stoner said her main issue was the lack of engagement on the provincial level.

"This should have been referred to us as an impacted party, but we only received it through Ms. Saxby, by email three days prior to the deadline for comment."

CAO Linda Glenday clarified that municipal bureaucrats had received a notification of the application, but "not much before" the letter from Tracey Saxby, the head of environmentalist group My Sea to Sky.

"The short notice that has been given to our person on unacceptable, and we have seen this type of short notice when it comes to consultation regarding the project at Woodfibre. I think that it's important for us to send a message that we need a larger amount of time," said Coun. John French.

For its part, Woodfibre said that it has engaged in meaningful consultation in the past, which has led to multiple facility design changes they've made in response to public dialogue.

Scott said the company has frequent and regular contact with the mayor, council, and District staff. There are also other engagement opportunities, with one example being a 24/7 feedback portal.

"In some cases, including our water lot lease application, we are required to follow a prescribed consultation process established by the B.C. government," said Scott in a written statement to The Chief.

"We are following that process, which includes a month-long public comment period. Information prepared to support the application is based on guidance from the Province of B.C. on what they need to make a decision regarding use of Crown land. It is important to note that there is already a lease on the water lot — it was needed previously for the longtime pulp and paper mill at the Woodfibre site. A new lease simply reflects the change from a pulp mill operation to an LNG export facility."

Saxby applauded the council's decision to admonish Woodfibre.

"After eight years, Woodfibre LNG knows who the key stakeholders are, yet no effort was made to notify these stakeholders other than printed ads in a local newspaper. My Sea to Sky was alerted to Woodfibre LNG's application for a Crown Water Lease by one of our volunteers, and we then alerted mayor and council, along with other key stakeholders in Howe Sound. This is shameful behaviour by Woodfibre LNG. The lack of transparency and public engagement makes it appear that Woodfibre LNG is trying to sneak through the tenure approval process," said Saxby in a written statement to The Chief.

Saxby also said there was missing and incomplete information.

"Woodfibre LNG refers to management plans throughout, however, these are not available to the public, so how can the public participate in this process and determine whether the public interest has been met?" she wrote.

Saxby added that My Sea to Sky does not support the application, as she believes it will cause damage to fish and shoreline habitats.

She also noted the timing of building a fossil fuel facility when climate change is causing widespread destruction.

 "Crown land values are managed for the benefit of the public, yet there is no public benefit to developing new fossil fuel infrastructure that will lock in climate pollution for another forty years," Saxby wrote.

"The deadly heatwave, floods, wildfires, fire clouds, drought, crop failure, and infrastructure damage, are all signs that the climate crisis is here, right now. We cannot add more fuel to the fire. We cannot solve the climate crisis by burning more fossil fuels."


***Correction: July 26, 12:25 p.m. — Coun. Doug Race said he was concerned about how the province, not Woodfibre, had engaged the District.

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