Councillor Patricia Heintzman took it as a sign.
With over 100 anti-liquefied natural gas protestors sporting plaques outside of Squamish’s city hall at Tuesday’s (July 15) council meeting, Heintzman asked that the proposed Woodfibre export facility be put to referendum.
Protesters spilled over from council chamber into the District of Squamish’s lobby. My Sea To Sky, an anti-Woodfibre LNG group that aims to raise residents’ key concerns regarding the proposed Howe Sound project, organized the rally. The group comprises business owners, scientists, doctors, retired lawyers, teachers and various professionals, all sharing one request, My Sea To Sky member Delena Angrignon told council.
“We, your citizens, ask council to engage actively with the public on this controversial issue so you are very clear on where the community stands on the Woodfibre LNG export facility,” she said.
Many residents feel they’ve been left in the dark, My Sea To Sky co-founder Tracey Saxby said. The meetings held by Woodfibre proponents last June were a “sham,” she said. Officials at open houses introduced a separate feedback process that further confused residents wanting to submit comments to the official provincial environmental assessment, Saxby said.
Saxby questioned how much discussion was taking place between the municipality and Woodfibre officials. On Tuesday, July 15, a letter from Woodfibre LNG to the district hit council’s agenda. It requested that the municipality enter into an agreement by which Woodfibre would pay $2 million in property tax, with an annual increase of 2.5 per cent to a maximum of $3 million.
That rate seems low, Saxby said.
“Two million dollars is what Woodfibre pulp mill last paid in 2005 and it’s nearly 10 years later,” she said.
Saxby requested district officials don’t enter negotiations before the scope of the project – as well as its economic impacts – is known.
There are so many questions out there that haven’t been answered, Heintzman said. She urged the district to set up town hall meetings regarding the subject. With municipal elections slated for November, Heintzman questioned whether the Woodfibre LNG issue could be placed on the ballots as a referendum question.
“What I am hearing loud and clear is we have gathered hundreds of emails on this issue,” Heintzman said. “I am hoping we can set up dates for [town hall meetings].”
In a demonstration of transparency, Coun. Ted Prior assured residents that “nothing is going on behind closed doors.” The district has set up a Woodfibre LNG staff committee to aid council with sifting through the technical information, he noted.
That didn’t alleviate Squamish resident Auli Parviainen’s concerns. The district’s LNG committee’s scope is too narrow, she warned. The district-led group doesn’t factor in the environmental implications of the extraction of gas nor does it consider the suitability of the former pulp mill site for a LNG project, she said, adding district staff also didn’t explain how it chose experts to advise officials.
The staff committee was set up to provide council with information to aid officials in their response to the province’s environmental assessment process, said Randy Stoyko, the district’s general manager of business and community services. Staff wanted to limit the committee’s scope to focus on questions that would be accepted in the first phase of the assessment, he said adding upper levels of governments are looking for specific technical questions. An economic assessment will be a part of the package and Mayor Rob Kirkham requested site suitability be added to
Public input on the proponent’s Application Information Requirements (AIR) runs until July 27. Woodfibre is anticipated to submit an application to the province in August, at which time the environmental assessment office will have 30 days to review it before it’s put back to the public. That’s anticipated to take place in October, said Rod MacLeod, the district’s director of engineering.
“People keep saying this process is over. It is really just getting started,” he said.
Woodfibre’s letter to the district regarding property tax was a “little presumptuous,” Heintzman said. While there is currently no designated classification in B.C. that applies to the proposed LNG project for valuation purposes, by default the project would be lumped in with industrial, she said.
There is a tax exemption for machinery and equipment, the district chief administrative officer Corien Speaker warned council. As a result, portions of the proposed LNG plant could fall into that category. District staff is eying alternative taxation methods, she said, adding the district isn’t in a position to sign a property tax agreement.