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Squamish mayor stands firm amid jurisdiction dispute with Woodfibre LNG, province

Provincial order prompts WLNG to moor floatel at its worksite offshore from Squamish today.

As the Woodfibre LNG floatel was manoeuvring into position offshore of Squamish in Howe Sound this sunny Friday afternoon, Mayor Armand Hurford reiterated to The Squamish Chief that the municipality stands by its interpretation of the provincial Environmental Assessment Office order that precipitated the floating worker accommodation arriving today.

“What has happened to date is that a proponent [Woodfibre LNG] has been issued a compliance order. The proponent—and by the sounds of it, perhaps the [provincial] ministry—have interpreted what that order means. The municipality has a different interpretation of that,” he said on June 21, a few hours before the deadline the EAO set for Woodfibre LNG to move its workforce onto the floating worker accommodation.

“The proponent, on that interpretation, withdrew their [temporary use permit] application to what was a path to potential compliance [with the District],” said Hurford. “As it stands right now, those are the things we know have happened.”

The order, from the EAO compliance and enforcement office, issued June 17, stipulated that all workers that Woodfibre LNG had housed in Port Mellon and Squamish associated with the project must be moved to the floatel in Howe Sound by 5 p.m. Friday, June 21.

This prompted the company to bail on an ongoing temporary use permit (TUP) application to the District. It then began moving the floatel from Nanaimo where it was moored, to Squamish, just as the local council had been preparing to discuss it for a fourth time in three months at a June 18 council meeting. 

The company told The Squamish Chief that it had interpreted the order to override the municipal permitting process because it came from the provincial government; the ministry responsible for the EAO backed that interpretation, saying that municipal bylaws inconsistent with provincial legislation had no effect.

Today, three days later and hours before the floatel was officially in place, Hurford stood by the District’s position, saying that no municipal processes had been overridden, and that land use bylaws were still in effect—meaning that WLNG still needs a permit.

“At this point, from a land use perspective, we would have all the avenues available to us that a municipality does when there’s something happening against land use regulations,” he said, adding that working towards compliance would be how the District would approach next steps.

“We were on the temporary use permit path, which felt like a reasonable mechanism to at least strive towards compliance, whether it was acceptable to council or not, at the end of the day.

“I think that that’s what I would like to see happen, and work towards compliance with all regulators on the project.”

Asked if the District was leaving the door open for legal action on the file, Hurford said it was a given that it was an option.

“I think that anything that's open in any way to interpretation means that there’s an opening for recourse for whatever party’s on the other side of the interpretation,” he said.

That said, Hurford stressed that District mechanisms were geared towards seeking compliance like any other bylaw issue, so the District would simply be following its programming on that front, and he believed that Woodfibre LNG re-applying for a permit was the simplest way to get everything sorted.

“Re-engaging with the TUP process feels like the smoothest path for everybody involved.”

Issues at the heart of municipal oversight

The TUP decision process, as it had stood prior to the order from the EAO, and the WLNG withdrawal had been actively ongoing for months—with four meetings and a public hearing, and a second public hearing to come after some items the municipality had sought further clarity on were submitted into public record. 

They were all items that Woodfibre LNG had responded to in submissions before the Tuesday council meeting, but the District wasn’t given the opportunity to discuss because the application was withdrawn. 

“They’re all very real land use, community impact questions,” said Hurford, who challenged the interpretation that the municipality was inserting itself into the process where it didn’t belong.

“[These are] things that we are not just interested in—[but] we are tasked with addressing through the powers given to us by the provincial government.”

He argued that the District of Squamish was doing its job by going back to Woodfibre LNG for more details on the nitty gritty of the floatel.

“It’s work we are tasked with doing, and it’s important we have the opportunity to do that for the best outcomes for the community.”

Silence from the ministry

Asked whether the District of Squamish had heard more from the provincial government on the floatel and the current situation since Tuesday’s developments, Hurford said no.

“We haven’t received any additional guidance or documentation from the province,” he said, adding that comments released by the ministry to the press did not change the District’s position.

“Notwithstanding comments made by your source in the ministry in the press, the facts of what has happened, and under what legislation, are just facts: There’s been a compliance issue ordered and it says in very simple language what the proponent is to do, and that legislation does not do what we’re hearing it has been interpreted to do,” he said, adding that the province has official legislation to override a municipal decision, but it hadn’t done that.

Timeline, and next steps

When it comes to resolving the non-compliance of the floatel with municipal bylaws, Hurford said that because the District currently has no TUP application from Woodfibre LNG, he has no idea of a timeline for a conclusion.

“I don’t have an application to move quickly or slowly on, so I don’t know that I can comment, but I would say that things move quicker when you’ve applied for something.”

He stressed that compliance was the way forward, and they’d be seeking a resolution through the municipal processes.

With the floatel itself anchored off the Woodfibre site, Hurford said the District had work to do on it, and the larger file that was the Woodfibre LNG and FortisBC project, and it would continue to work through the regulatory process and build relationships with the project developers.

“This isn’t a finish line on this particular matter, nor is it the conclusion of all the pieces we need to engage with this project on … We’ve got a lot of work to do to continue to provide oversight and seek to minimize risks, and maximize opportunities for the community.”

Floatel moored

As of a release from Woodfibre LNG after 5 p.m., on Friday, the floatel was officially moored in Howe Sound, and in compliance with the provincial Environmental Assessment Office.

“The company had complied with the [EAO] order and is pleased to be able to move forward with utilizing the MV Isabelle X to provide comfortable at-site accommodation for our valued workforce while meeting all requirements of our Environmental Assessment Certificate in relation to worker access to the community of Squamish,” said Woodfibre LNG president, Christine Kennedy in a release which described the floatel as a “community-driven solution” that answered requests from the District, and the community to house non-local workers outside of Squamish.