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Squamish Council Torpedos 'Floatel' Permit

Updated: May 10

Proponents have 30-day appeal window

Opponents of the proposed Woodfibre Liquefied Natural Gas (WLNG) worker housing ship received a small victory when the motion to grant a temporary use permit (TUP) went down to defeat at the Squamish Council Special Business Meeting on April 30.

The so-called "floatel", first profiled in The Watershed HERE, is a refurbished cruise ship that has been brought in to accommodate temporary work crews at the WLNG plant. The ship is built to house 600-650 temporary WLNG workers, and if approved will be moored at the Woodfibre site.

However, a permit issued by the District of Squamish is required for even a short-term stay, and at a meeting last week, Council seemed unwilling to take the step.

In fact, two motions were made; one in support of the issue of the temporary permit and one against it, with both motions going down to defeat.

Councillor Lauren Greenlaw initially moved that Council deny the TUP permission, citing her own experiences after more than a decade in the resource industry with regard to both sexual violence toward women and the climate impact related to this project. "I'd like to point out that the correlation between resource camps and gender violence is not a 'negative characterization', it is a statistical fact."

She offered a further list of concerns, including a need for a higher bond than the $2 million the permit requires and said 92% of the community are not in support.

Councillor John French was among those who spoke in support of the motion, reminding Council that the project has "Squamish Nation, federal government and provincial government approval." He added that denying the permit is not going to stop construction, which is already underway.

Councillor Chris Pettingill also spoke against the permit, citing insufficient traffic assessment, little consideration given to the health and other impacts on the housing of workers next to a landfill and heavy industrial construction site, as well as gender and safety issues. "I am frustrated every time I hear that we aren't allowed to say no, or there's no point in saying no, or if we do say no, we'll be ignored. It is the job of leaders to stand up and say no when it's hard and when it's appropriate."

Each motion went down to defeat by a vote of 3-4.

The decisions followed a marathon nearly six-hour public consultation on the subject of issuing a temporary permit for the floatel, held on April 23 at Brennan Park Recreation Centre in Squamish. That event drew more than 200 attendees, at least 50 of whom spoke to the issue.

In light of the number of speakers, plus more than 600 pages of correspondence, Squamish District Councillors voted to defer the decision a week. While there were some speakers in favour of the permit, many expressed concerns over negative social impacts, including concerns over the potential for a toxic drug supply, waste management, traffic accidents, and the risk of gender-based violence.

Near the beginning of the session, WLNG President Christine Kennedy spoke directly to the concerns about gender-based violence. She said that WLNG "understands the duty that all companies and all citizens have to address the very uncomfortable truths about violence against women in Canada, and to actually do something about it. The company takes the safety of Indigenous women and girls –and all women– on the project and in the community very seriously."

Kennedy said the company's gender safety committee was established before it was a requirement by Environmental Assessment (EA) approval. She added that she is proud to co-chair the group with Gwen Harry of the Squamish First Nation, along with a group of Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh women from the community.

She noted that every worker on the project must take part in gender safety and cultural awareness training, delivered by Squamish Nation trainers.

All of the project's approvals included active engagement with the Squamish and other First Nations, District, as well as members of the public over a period of years.

Chief Dale Harry, one of the 16 hereditary Chiefs with the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation), attended the meeting with four generations of his family, including his mother Gwen Harry, who co-chairs the WLNG's Gender Safety Advisory Committee along with Kennedy.

Harry said he and his family firmly support the floatel application.

“Woodfibre LNG listened, and they heard the concerns of our community, of our women, and they invested in the floatel. There's no reason this investment should not be used as intended to protect the safety of our community." He urged Council to approve the permit for the floatel, adding that back in November, 2023, the Squamish Nation fully analyzed the pros and cons of the floatel and then voted to support the project.

In her presentation, Kennedy said that regulatory approvals are already in place for the floatel, including from the BC Environmental Assessment Office, the Squamish Nation and Transport Canada, among others. She added that all of the approvals included significant engagement with Squamish and other First Nations, the District of Squamish and the public over a period of several years.

Tracy Saxby, is the Executive Director of My Sea To Sky, an environmental organization dedicated to the protection of Howe Sound that has lobbied against WLNG since their inception in 2014.

In a statement, Saxby said she was inspired by hearing residents sharing their concerns at the event, including: human rights impacts for women and girls, worker safety and wellbeing, traffic safety on Highway 99, the lack of plans for waste management and the "divide and conquer tactics" employed by WLNG.

She added that there are no transparency or accountability mechanisms currently in place for when things go wrong, and no legacy benefits for the community. While it is a local decision, it "will also have regional impacts," she said.

Lions Bay resident Ruth Simons, is president and volunteer executive director of the Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society (HSBRIS). She is concerned about the implications the project will have on the region's biosphere.

She pointed to the Atl'ka7tsem/Howe Sound Marine Stewardship Initiative organization's Facebook page, where the week prior, humpback whales were seen swimming along the shoreline between Swiy̓át / Woodfibre and Foulger Creek. The whales appeared to be feeding on the recently hatched herring spawn in the area.

Simons added that she strongly supports how Squamish Council is handling public engagement with regard to this issue.  

The April 30 meeting is not the end of the issue, as procedurally, the Mayor or any Councillor who voted in favour of the temporary permit are allowed to bring the issue back up before council within 30 days.

May 10 edit: District of Squamish Councillor John French clarified that any member of Council who voted against the temporary permit is allowed to bring the issue back, meaning only he and Councillor Andersen are not able to bring it back for reconsideration. All the other council members have the ability to bring it back.

The Watershed regrets the error.

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