South Britannia temporary work camp proposal sparks fiery debate

Up to 500 workers for Woodfibre and Fortis projects could be in area for up to six years

Housing affordability, safety, and even racial ancestry were all part of a fiery debate surrounding a Squamish company's application to set up a temporary work camp in the south Britannia Beach area.

"What I hear is NIMBYs — not in my backyard," said Squamish Nation hereditary Chief Dale Harry, who supported the project. "Do you think the First Nations had that opportunity to say that?"

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This was one of several comments at a public information session on Feb. 28 at the Britannia Mine Museum that drew a very audible reaction from the dozens in attendance.

If LandSea Camp and Catering Services gets its way, the company will set up modular housing that would house up to 500 Woodfibre and FortisBC workers in Britannia's Makin lands, which are now owned by the Tigerbay Development Corp., previously known as the Taicheng Development Corp.

LandSea will also be partnering with Stalkaya Enterprises, which is owned by a member of the Squamish Nation.

Should it be granted, the camp's temporary use permit would last three years with an option to renew for another three.

LandSea's project is entirely dependent on whether the Woodfibre and FortisBC projects happen, though LandSea has yet to secure a deal with them to house their employees.

Should Woodfibre and the resulting FortisBC project fail to get off the ground, LandSea's camp will not be built. However, if LandSea's camp fails, the Woodfibre and FortisBC projects can still go ahead.

A permit application is being processed by the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, but it's expected to be weeks before it goes to the board for a decision.

Those who attended the public information session could be grouped generally into two categories.

The first group feared that workers would overrun the town and cause trouble. They were also concerned an influx of workers would cause strain on local emergency services and infrastructure.

The second contended that a work camp could prevent a worsening of the Squamish housing crisis, provide a controlled way to have out-of-town workers and create economic benefits.

Those against the project were the loudest in the crowd, at least initially.

"The population of this camp is going to be bigger than the population of our town," said Jane Iverson. "This not the kind of atmosphere that we envision for our community."

The latest census pegs Britannia's population at 373 people.

Another resident compared the project to a site up north.

"You know everyone within that huge camp in Kitimat — that 4,000-man camp — was pretty much running rampant in that town," said Donnie Whorley. "They weren't going home, going to the gym after. They were going out to the bar, causing fights, sleeping with people's wives, sleeping with people's husbands."

The last sentence drew a few chuckles from the audience.

He suggested a better alternative would be to anchor a cruise ship adjacent to the Woodfibre site, which is an approach that has been implemented in Kitimat.

"I've worked in camps," he told The Chief beforehand. "These camp workers will do what they want."

He was afraid workers would fight with local youths, drink and consume drugs in public places.

There were a number of people present who echoed this concern either publicly or in conversations with The Chief.

Some also repeated that the Woodfibre site would be a better place to put the camp.

On the other hand, there were others who saw this project as the best way forward, assuming that the Woodfibre and Fortis ventures go through.

"The employees may be coming anyway, and maybe having them in a facility like this is better than having them spread throughout the community," said resident Celeste Bickford during the meeting.

She shared some strong words with The Chief in a follow-up message.

"It's easy for a whole bunch of people who own their homes to show up and oppose what LandSea is proposing, but the people that this will likely impact the most are the renters in the region," she wrote.

"The regional district board, therefore, has a moral obligation to seriously consider this proposal."

Mike Coyne, president of LandSea, was also present to address locals' concerns.

He said the camp will employ security services and impose a strict code of conduct. Drugs and alcohol will not be permitted.

Coyne added that a fire evacuation plan would be in place and fire suppression designs and measures would be incorporated into the site.

He also promised that LandSea will have medical services on site. This, coupled with the fire plan, would take the pressure off the Britannia fire department, he said.

In a conversation with The Chief, he also framed his project as an important piece to solving the housing crisis.

"The availability of housing and affordable housing has worsened," said Coyne. "Right now, the need for this solution is so much greater than it ever was before. And I believe that officials and the SLRD can understand that. And I think they'll look at it now, and they should look at it now saying, ‘We need to find a solution.'"

This is not the first time LandSea has approached the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District with a work camp proposal. The company made an almost identical application in 2017, but it was turned down by the regional district.

At the time, SLRD officials said that they wanted a permanent solution to the housing crisis, and were looking for long-term structures as opposed to a temporary work camp.

However, Coyne pointed out that the Woodfibre and Fortis projects are temporary, so it doesn't make sense to create permanent housing because those workers will leave once construction finishes.

The regional district may be more amenable to the idea this time around.

The new SLRD chair, Tony Rainbow, said he agred with the "concept" of a work camp, but didn't go so far as to say he was in favour of LandSea's proposal.

Rainbow said that if the Woodfibre and FortisBC projects go ahead, the incoming workers could drive up rental prices and force out locals.

He said that perhaps a work camp could prevent a flood of new people from driving up the rent.

"It will push out people at the lower end of the market. It will make it extremely difficult for young people, for entry-level workers, for single moms, you know, to find a reasonable place to rent — that's what I'm worried about," Rainbow told The Chief.

"What can we do to solve that potential problem and, the answer is — for me — to have this camp."

There were also considerations to be looked at beyond the Britannia Beach area.

"I look at the impact on Squamish, and it would be horrendous," Rainbow said, describing what would happen if a camp wasn't built.

He also noted this could be an opportunity to negotiate some much-needed amenities for the Britannia area, including a new dock to replace the one that was ravaged in the Dec. 20 storm.

At least one person at the meeting agreed.

"We may as well get something out of it because we're not going to get anything out of LNG," said resident Lynne Cooke.

However, Rainbow also took note of the sentiments at the public meeting that night.

"I'm really aware of the concerns that a number of people in Britannia Beach have expressed with regard to how a work camp would be operated and the kinds of impact it would have on the community," said Rainbow in a follow-up conversation the next day.

"I've heard what they've said, and I'll work with the camp to make sure that their concerns are taken care of."

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