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Updated: With no floatel, what happens next with the LNG project in Squamish?

Province says District and WLNG need to figure out what’s next; WLNG says it will continue to work with the District.
The former Estonian cruise ferry MV Isabelle. |Photo Paul McGrath

The temporary use permit application for Woodfibre LNG’s floating worker accommodation, called the floatel, was defeated by council on April 30. So what happens next?

So far, it seems Woodfibre LNG (WLNG) and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) are evaluating their next moves while the provincial government put the responsibility back on the District of Squamish and WLNG to figure it out.

The floatel is a renovated ship, MV Isabelle, which was slated to be moored at the WLNG site in Howe Sound, about seven kilometres outside of downtown Squamish. 

The boat has about 650 rooms onboard, where workers must stay if they are not residents of Squamish before Sept. 20, 2023, according to a condition imposed by the province’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO).

On Tuesday, April 30, the temporary use permit (TUP) application for the floatel was defeated by council.

Woodfibre LNG statement

On May 1, a spokesperson for WLNG sent The Squamish Chief a written statement from the company’s president Christine Kennedy saying the company was “disappointed” in the outcome.

“The District has asked repeatedly since 2019—to the company and to regulators—that the Woodfibre LNG project workforce be housed outside Squamish, which is exactly what the floatel delivers,” she said.

Kennedy goes on to say that the floatel had approval from the federal government, provincial government and the Nation and that floatel-specific management plans are overseen by the province. She added that the company will continue to work to find a path forward on the TUP while construction of the project continues.

Kennedy also criticized some council members who portrayed workers on the project in a negative light.

“The rhetoric of some council members directed toward the skilled craft workers that will make up the project’s workforce seems out of place. These men and women are simply looking to do a good job, feed their families and have a safe and comfortable place to live while minimizing any disruption that an approved project could have on the community. If these people visited as tourists, they would be welcomed,” she said.

Provincial government response

The Environment Assessment Office (EAO) did not provide additional clarity about what would happen next, putting the onus on the District of Squamish and Woodfibre LNG. The office said it was too early to say.

The Squamish Chief asked specifically about the Sept. 20, 2023, date that requires workers to be housed outside of town, and if the rejection of the TUP for the floatel would qualify as an extenuating circumstance thus allowing workers to live in Squamish, but the EAO did not say one way or another.

“It is too early to speculate what the Squamish council’s vote will have on the Woodfibre LNG project, including the condition in the environmental assessment certificate and whether it would be considered an extenuating circumstance,” said a statement from the EAO. “Woodfibre LNG and the District of Squamish will need to discuss the next steps. The EAO will not speculate on what that path may look like.”

The statement also said the EAO amended the WLNG certificate, in part, to ensure housing, traffic and community services were “not adversely affected due to this project.” As part of that, the floatel was proposed as an alternative housing option that would “mitigate the potential impacts of housing for workers in local communities, particularly Indigenous women and girls.”

Squamish Nation

Nation spokesperson and council member, Sxwixwtn Wilson Williams, said the District council’s decision impacts its ability to maintain accountability with WLNG. 

He said Nation leaders are evaluating possible next steps.

“The approval also enabled us to put in additional risk mitigation controls around community safety and environment. The decision to reject the floatel impacts our ability to enforce accountability on these matters, and we are now assessing what our next steps will be,” he said in a statement sent to The Squamish Chief.

Moreover, Williams said the Nation originally approved the floatel “mainly because it addressed our concerns about the safety of Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit individuals in our community.”

“The Squamish Nation Environmental Assessment Agreement gives our Nation a unique and independent regulatory role over the Woodfibre LNG (WLNG) project. This agreement is the first Indigenous-led assessment and regulatory process in Canadian history and has provided unprecedented influence and legally-binding accountability measures on how the WLNG project mitigates environmental and community risks to our people and our lands and waters.”

District of Squamish 

A spokesperson with the District of Squamish said those who voted with the majority, resulting in the defeat of the permit application—councillors Lauren Greenlaw, Andrew Hamilton, Chris Pettingill and Jenna Stoner—or Mayor Hurford, may bring back the motion within 30 days for reconsideration.

Reconsideration may happen for any motion from council and is not specific to this one motion.

Hurford commented further on May 7: “The Woodfibre LNG/ FortisBC projects have been through many regulatory processes involving the Squamish Nation, federal and provincial governments and their agencies. The District has regulatory responsibilities that flow from decisions of these other orders of government. Council takes their regulatory responsibility very seriously as I expect all others involved have done to date. As council, our role is to protect the health, safety and well-being of our community and municipality, and to ensure the procedural fairness of our processes. After hearing from hundreds of community members, ultimately many people want the same thing - the safety of our residents (and workers) and the avoidance of impacts to the community and the environment. Council wants this too and our job is to get the best possible outcome for Squamish. This is what this process is all about. We continue to be open to discuss this aspect of the project and work to see if there is a supportable path forward.”

My Sea to Sky

My Sea to Sky executive director, Tracey Saxby, commended District council after the meeting on April 30. 

The statement said, in part, that WLNG took the risk of purchasing and refurbishing the ship without the District’s approval. Furthermore, it said the application lacked publicly available information about the operation of the vessel.

Transport Canada

In a statement on May 7, Transport Canada said the ship has been certified as a passenger vessel, but noted that the District also has to approve the ship.

Please note, this story was updated on May 7 to provide comment from Transport Canada and Mayor Hurford.