Squamish Nation’s power in LNG decision unprecedented: lawyer

Chiefs and council decision expected later this month

The clout the Squamish Nation holds in the decision over the proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) project slated for Squamish is unprecedented, according to the Nation’s lawyer Aaron Bruce.  

“I think this Squamish process is quite unique. I don’t think there is a precedent in the province or probably the country where the First Nation has had the ability to run a parallel process with some legal framework around it,” said Bruce, who is also a Squamish Nation member. 

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The Squamish Nation released 25 conditions on June 27 that have to be met before the Nation would agree to the proposed LNG facility on its territory. Only five conditions have so far been released to Nation members or the public. 

The top five include, among others, ensuring the proposed pipeline avoids the Wildlife Management Area of the Squamish Estuary and providing insurance in case any Nation member is hurt in an LNG-related accident.

The Nation chiefs and council are expected to make a final decision on the project later this month.

Woodfibre LNG announced June 30 it had been granted a suspension of its 180-day Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) application review period, which was set to end July 13.

Prior to the release of the conditions, the Nation held what representatives said was an independent assessment of the Woodfibre LNG and associated FortisBC pipeline projects that was distinct from the provincial EAO.

The province and the proponents are legally bound to respect the Squamish Nation, Bruce said.

“The Squamish Nation is making a parallel decision, exercising its assertion of self government and hoping to have a conversation with the province at that level at a government to government level rather than as a stakeholder,” he said.

“In the Environmental Assessment Process, Squamish [Nation] is treated just as any other stakeholder not as a government, so all they are doing is commenting on information that the proponents have provided where we’re able to actually run our own process where we could ask for extra information, we could use our own information our own way and not have someone else make assumptions.”  

Bruce said he wasn’t entirely surprised that the company pressed pause on its Environmental Assessment period. “I knew that they were under a time crunch, and I think everybody knew that a couple of weeks wasn’t going to suffice in working through the details of these conditions.”

Bruce said next steps include the Squamish Nation representatives and Woodfibre sitting down and going through the conditions and the release of the full list of conditions to Nation members, followed by a release to the public.

“And hopefully working towards the details and the legal agreements,” Bruce said. 

Both sides of the LNG debate were supportive of the Nation in the days following the release of the conditions. 

My Sea to Sky co-founder Delena Angrignon applauded the Squamish Nation on the conditions. 

“It formalizes key concerns that we have, Squamish Nation members have and all our major partners in Howe Sound have,” she said.

 “These concerns have been minimized by Woodfibre LNG throughout the EA process. Squamish Nation is holding them responsible to respond in a legally binding way.”

Evan Drygas, director of Sustainable Squamish, the organization behind the Yes to LNG campaign, said the Squamish Nation’s conditions benefit all residents by adding additional project oversight.

“Suspending the Environmental Assessment process is simply the right thing to do to ensure that all of the Nation’s concerns can be fully addressed. 

“If given adequate time for assessment, the Nation’s conditions will make for a much better project,” he said. 

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