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'Floatel' ship arrives in B.C. to house LNG workers, but local permit still needed


SQUAMISH, B.C. — A cruise ship renovated to house more than 600 workers at a natural gas construction project north of Vancouver arrived in British Columbia waters this week after a 40-day journey from Estonia, where it had accommodated Ukrainian refugees.

Bridgemans Services Group, the company contracted to provide the so-called "floatel," or floating hotel, for workers at the Woodfibre LNG project near Squamish, B.C., shared a photo of the MV Isabelle in Vancouver's Burrard Inlet on Wednesday.

However, the mayor of Squamish said the district council has yet to consider the application for a temporary use permit to allow the plan to proceed.

Armand Hurford said staff are reviewing the application from Woodfibre LNG with a "public process" and council decision to follow.

In an interview on Friday, the mayor said he isn't sure when the application will be sent to council, but it hadn't appeared on the schedule for the rest of this month.

Woodfibre LNG said it was planning for workers to start occupying the ship this spring.

Hurford would not say whether he would support the plan when it comes time to vote, although he said the floating accommodation is a "creative solution" as Squamish grapples with a rental vacancy rate of just 0.7 per cent.

"We knew that was the path they were going to pursue, but the last piece of that is the permitting required to do that, and you know, often the devil's in the details."

Hurford said figuring out accommodation for temporary workers should be an integral part of the approval process for major infrastructure projects.

Otherwise, he said municipalities are left grappling with the housing and social impacts "at a really awkward time in the cycle of a project."

The Union of B.C. Municipalities adopted a resolution put forward by the Squamish council last fall, requesting that the provincial government require detailed workforce housing plans when considering the approval of such developments.

Christine Kennedy, president of Woodfibre LNG, said it has always been a priority to ensure the facility's construction "has as little impact on Squamish as possible."

The statement said floating accommodation alleviates concerns about the impact of temporary workers on local housing and community services as well as the potential for environmental harm associated with "standard" work camps.

Hurford said he doesn't know why the temporary use application for the "floatel" was made so late in the process, but he speculated it may have stemmed from the company’s desire to maximize use of an initial three-year permit.

"We see it often with a proponent where they want to have the use of that for as long as possible."

The timeline for potential approval depends in part on the quality of the application, the mayor said.

"Obviously, they're confident in their application and in the solution and they’ve invested enough to get to this point."

The statement from Bridgemans said the "luxury" accommodation vessel was set to receive "final touches" at a North Vancouver shipyard, including games tables and equipment for a fitness facility, before making its way up Howe Sound to the site of the former pulp and paper mill seven kilometres southwest of Squamish.

The ship recently housed people fleeing war in Ukraine,and a statement from Woodfibre LNG said it has since undergone an "extensive refit" to its environmental systems and its living, dining and recreation areas.

The ship has sewage and water treatment systems, industrial-sized heat pumps, and it may be connected to the BC Hydro electricity grid. Its treated sewage is to be shipped to waste management facilities in the province, the statement said.

The MV Isabelle is set to be moored at the Woodfibre project site, so those living on board can walk to work, it added.

The "floatel" includes catered dining areas, laundry rooms, a first-aid clinic and a games room, in addition to the "state-of-the-art" fitness facility, it said.

Bridgemans will have a crew on board at all times to inspect the ship and ensure fire, water and other safety systems meet Canadian regulations, it said.

— By Brenna Owen in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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