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Updated: Dozens in Squamish voice concerns and support for WLNG's floatel

About 50 people spoke at public hearing, in addition to hundreds of online submissions. Council postpones decision for one week.

Those who attended the marathon of a public hearing about the Woodfibre LNG (WLNG) temporary use permit for the floatel will have to wait another week for a decision.

By a 5-2 vote, Squamish council opted to defer their decision on the TUP at least until next week, as many cited the amount of information they needed to digest. Councillors John French and Eric Andersen were opposed to the deferral, both noting they were ready to make a decision Tuesday night, April 23, despite the late hour as the meeting ended near midnight.

Council heard from at least 40 to 50 speakers at a unique public hearing hosted at Brennan Park Recreation Centre, which saw at least 200 attendees. The public hearing was about the temporary worker accommodation from WLNG dubbed the floatel, which will house approximately 600 to 650 workers. If approved, it will be moored at the WLNG site in Howe Sound, about seven kilometres away from Squamish’s downtown.

After about an hour of a staff update with some questions from council, the public hearing lasted close to five hours.

Hundreds of comments were also submitted online in the days leading up to the public hearing, from other communities alongside Squamish residents. The majority of the online comments were unsupportive of the floatel. Some of those in attendance held signs at various times during the meeting decrying the project and the floatel.

Speakers against the floatel were about double the number of speakers in favour.

Concerns noted by those who spoke included worries for human rights, the safety of Squamish residents, especially women, girls and Indigenous women, traffic impacts and driver safety, concerns for the environment, local hospital overload, waste management, and a lack of legacy housing, among others.

On the other hand, some of those who were in support of the TUP for the floatel said it would be helpful for the safety of Squamish residents as well as avoid an overload on a tight rental market. Additionally, some said WLNG showed consistent engagement with the public.

Public feedback

A couple of representatives from WLNG were in attendance at the meeting. President of WLNG, Christine Kennedy, spoke briefly near the beginning of the hearing and said the company takes very seriously concerns raised, especially concerns about violence towards girls, women and Indigenous women.

“The floatel solution has been designed to address community concerns related to workforce impact on housing affordability. … It’s also through provisions that have been discussed by staff meant to address concerns related to gender safety, traffic volumes, pressures on community services,” she said. “We are working earnestly to mitigate the impacts on residents of Squamish.”

The executive director for My Sea to Sky, Tracey Saxby, spoke on behalf of the organization that has campaigned against the project for the last decade. In part, Saxby said WLNG’s floatel fails to leave a lasting legacy for Squamish, among other concerns.

“We have significant concerns about human rights impacts, worker safety and traffic safety. … There is no transparency or accountability mechanism when things go wrong,” she said.

Chief Dale Harry, a hereditary Chief with the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation), said he was in “firm support” of the floatel and was critical of District council for perceived delays for floatel approval. He also shared his support for the company putting in place a Gender Safety Advisory Committee, which his mother serves on.

“Without the floatel, the alternative is much worse. People living in our community is not something that is seen as sustainable or a good solution,” he said. “The Squamish Nation fully analyzed the pros and cons [for the] floatel and council voted and they supported it. I don’t understand why this District council would want to get in the way of that.”

As for a legacy housing project, another hereditary Chief with the Nation, Ian Campbell, said they had done extensive assessments on the possibility of building temporary housing that would be converted as well as areas to moor the floatel. Campbell also said he was disheartened that District council hadn’t been more outright with how far the project has come.

Other Nation members spoke out against the floatel and the project in general. Charlene Williams shared her concerns about environmental impacts as well as the possibility of impacts on the community and Indigenous children. She also shared concerns about what she considered a lack of expertise on the Gender Safety Advisory Committee.

The director of advocacy and a staff lawyer with the non-profit teenage girl advocacy organization, Justice for Girls, shared her concerns for human rights.

“We have been advocating from the beginning that human rights impact assessment is necessary in order to determine what the appropriate solution ought to be,” said Sue Brown, adding that the root causes of violence against women and girls deserve a holistic conversation.

Others in the public also brought up community safety concerns, with one local resident, Sarah Wheatley, sharing her experience after getting in an accident with a FortisBC subcontractor. Other concerns also included impacts on fish and other wildlife in Howe Sound, including Kieran Brownie who said herring will spawn near the ship, which would take away habitat from wildlife. 

There were some comments about waste management from the floatel as well, which a plan is currently underway in collaboration with the Nation. The plan already stipulates that no waste or grey water would be discharged into Howe Sound. Previously, WLNG said sewage would be treated on board the floatel and then transported to receiving stations away from Squamish. Furthermore, the local Squamish landfill will not be used for waste.

Notably, many comments against the floatel ventured into areas that are not stipulated by this particular TUP, which included concerns for the overall environmental impacts of installing more fossil fuel infrastructure as well as the potentially unbeknownst consequences of flaring gas at the site.

Council defers with intent to conclude on April 30

Shortly after closing the public hearing portion of the meeting, a motion was made to defer the decision until next week, April 30.

“I don’t feel like I would be able to make an informed decision based on a fair process,” said Coun. Jenna Stoner, citing hundreds of pages of written submissions council received throughout the meeting.

“I think that the amount of information that we’re absorbing tonight and the weight of this decision certainly warrants a few days of reflection,” said Coun. Andrew Hamilton.

Councillors John French and Eric Andersen, however, were ready to make a decision.

“I have all the information I need, I’m energetic and bright-eyed and ready to vote,” said French.

“I have digested, read all of the correspondence,” said Andersen. “I don’t think it’s in our interest to delay this decision.”

Ultimately, the remaining three council members—councillors Lauren Greenlaw, Chris Pettingill and Mayor Armand Hurford—voted to defer.

District staff confirmed with The Squamish Chief after the meeting concluded that the intention is to host a meeting on Tuesday, April 30, for a decision on the WLNG floatel TUP.

View more information about the WLNG floatel via council’s April 23 agenda.

Note: This story was updated at 2 p.m. on April 24 to reflect more information from the April 23 public hearing.