District of Squamish council has voiced its displeasure that FortisBC is starting work related to the Eagle Mountain to Woodfibre LNG pipeline project at a time when it will not have created worker accommodations.
On Jan. 24, council voted unanimously in favour of directing Squamish's mayor to write a letter to several provincial cabinet ministers expressing concerns about this situation. It is to be copied to the premier and Squamish's MLA and MP, among others.
It will state the municipality believes there will be significant negative impacts on local housing availability and affordability, the 2023 tourism season, local businesses via labour supply and housing affordability challenges, as well as community safety and emergency services.
"These companies are putting us in an untenable position where they are saying that they have a construction timeline that needs to start in February, but they don't have an appropriate accommodation work plan for their workforce that they're bringing in," said Coun. Jenna Stoner, who put forth the letter motion to council.
"We know that the tourism sector is just recovering from COVID-19. And that we already have very low vacancy rates through the busy summer months. And we've heard today that contractors from FortisBC have taken an entire hotel block off of the market for this coming summer. That has significant impacts. We also know that many of our local businesses can't hire because their workers can't live in our community, because it's already too expensive."
The vote arrived after officials from FortisBC and Woodfibre LNG gave an update to council. Among the things highlighted in this update was that FortisBC workers would be starting preparation work for the tunnel and the accompanying pipeline project this year.
This work will pave the way for Fortis to create a pipeline that would deliver natural gas to the Woodfibre LNG export facility, which plans on shipping liquefied natural gas to Asian markets.
However, Fortis officials said that staff accommodations would not be constructed for the project by the time workers begin to arrive this year. In the meantime, at least some of Fortis's contractors have booked up local hotel rooms for its employees to give them a place to stay in town.
"We anticipate a peak of approximately 300 non-local workers in the community … late summer, early fall," said Darrin Marshall, FortisBC's director for the Eagle Mountain – Woodfibre Gas project.
"Currently, our tunnel workers have arranged local hotel accommodation at the Mountain Retreat Hotel."
Fortis's pipeline contractor is also seeking accommodations, he said.
He said construction for the Fortis pipeline is expected to occur between 2023 and 2026, with work anticipated to start in February or early March.
"It's really associated with some clearing work at the Woodfibre site in order to consolidate some of the works," said Marshall. "So it's a fairly modest start."
Throughout 2023, Fortis is looking to bring equipment, prepare the site and excavate a tunnel that would allow for pipeline installation.
The company also seeks to do preparation work that would help create a pipeline, such as building bridges, culverts and establishing a laydown yard, among other things.
Those on council voiced concerns that having an influx of workers arriving and living in town would squeeze the community's resources, which is already struggling to keep up with the current demand for housing, tourism accommodations, healthcare and emergency infrastructure, among other things.
"The province has acknowledged that we are in a housing crisis across the province, and some would argue it is more acute in Squamish today without the negative impacts of this project," said Mayor Armand Hurford.
"Given the timeline of both work commencing and a proposed work camp — which, acknowledged, could be a part of the solution — without those things even attempting to line up, I feel it's entirely appropriate to write this letter."
Hurford said these issues have been highlighted for more than five years, yet those responsible for the Fortis-Woodfibre project were "here at the 11th hour without a solution."
FortisBC has proposed a work camp to be built up the Mamquam River Forest Service Road, but it has yet to go through the municipality's approval process. It looks doubtful that it will be built in time to accommodate at least the first wave of workers arriving to work on the project.
The company said that if its temporary use permit is approved by the municipality, its goal is to have its work camp built and opened by November.
Coun. John French also supported the motion, but struck a more diplomatic tone towards the companies.
"If you detect hesitation in my voice, it's because I am hesitating," said French. "We've written this letter previously more than once. And I think that progress has been made in co-ordinating the projects. And I want to recognize that and acknowledge that and thank the proponents for doing what you have done to this point to align the projects to help the District of Squamish with the administrative burden that comes with the project."
He noted that the Woodfibre-Fortis project has been very political and has drawn a long history of divided council decisions.
"There is a portion of our community that is looking forward to this project and supports the initiative, the jobs that it will bring, the taxation that it will bring to our community, and other potential benefits," he said.
Before the council meeting, about 40 people gathered in a protest organized by My Sea to Sky outside Municipal Hall.
The group waved placards and a large banner that decried the natural gas project.
"We're here to demonstrate that the opposition continues after nine years," said Tracey Saxby, executive director of My Sea to Sky. "We're not going away. But we do want these projects to go away. We don't believe that these projects are going to benefit the community."