The Barkley Sound Alliance protests outside a Port Alberni chamber of commerce meeting where Steelhead LNG was presenting the Kwispaa LNG project on Feb. 28. The Alliance is planning a similar protest against the proposed facility in Ucluelet on Thursday, April 26. (Elena Rardon Photo)

Coast clashes over proposed LNG facility slated for Sarita Bay

Supporters and opponents to face off in Ucluelet on Thursday, April 26

Proponents and opponents of a proposed liquefied natural gas facility slated for Sarita Bay will be presenting their respective pitches at the Ucluelet Community Centre this Thursday.

Representatives from Steelhead LNG and the Huu-ay-aht First Nation have partnered on a natural gas liquefaction and export facility project, dubbed Kwispaa LNG, that would be located on the First Nation’s land at Sarita Bay, roughly 10 kilometres north of Bamfield.

Representatives from both Steelhead LNG and the Huu-ay-aht plan to meet with the Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce at the UCC on April 26 to bring the business community up to speed on the project’s progression.

Steelhead LNG’s director of communications Trevor Boudreau told the Westerly News that the company and First Nation began exploring the Sarita Bay site in 2014 and the Nation’s membership voted 70 per cent in favour of pursuing the LNG project in a March, 2017, referendum.

RELATED: Potential route examined for pipeline feeding major new West Coast LNG facility

He said, if completed, the Kwispaa LNG facility would receive Canadian natural gas, likely from northern B.C. and Alberta, by way of a new pipeline. The gas would be converted into liquid at the Sarita Bay site through a cooling process involving massive fans and the liquefied gas would be stored inside storage tanks at the facility.

“We anticipate that the Kwispaa LNG project would generate thousands of direct jobs during the construction phase,” he said adding roughly 450 employees would be needed during operations of the first phase of the project.

Ucluelet local Alishia Fox is a member of the Barkley Sound Alliance, which is planning a protest outside the UCC at 5 p.m. Thursday to voice their opposition to the project.

She fears the jobs created by the facility could be dwarfed by the jobs lost if disaster strikes.

“You have to think about the jobs that we would lose if there was an accident,” she said. “We’ve got fisheries. We’ve got tourism. We’ve got our own livelihoods. We’ve got a grey whale migration to think about, this is where they live, this is where they feed.”

Fox believes the Kwispaa partnership has missed the boat on the LNG market with facilities already underway in other locations and said adding a new pipeline into Barkley Sound and increasing tanker traffic is too big a risk for too little gain.

“What happens if the unthinkable disaster, where we get that earthquake that rocks the coast for five minutes followed up by a tsunami? We’re going to have devastation on so many levels and you want to add highly explosive gas and tankers and all that to that to the mix?” she said.

“It doesn’t really matter where your politics lie, it’s important that you do understand that this is something that we could see happen in the next five to ten years and this plant would only be in operation for the next 25 years. Are we willing to risk our livelihoods and the environment and this natural beauty, or are we going to be stewards and keep that junk out of here?”

Kwispaa LNG will need approval from provincial and federal regulators before it moves ahead and Boudreau said the Huu-ay-aht and Steelhead are working together on environmental studies.

“Importantly, the project is already benefitting the local environment. Kwispaa LNG has established a $7.9 million watershed renewal and fish enhancement fund to support renewal activities on the Sarita, Sugsaw and Pachena Rivers,” he said. “Renewal work has been underway for more than a year now, creating over 2,500 hours of work for Huu-ay-aht citizens and family members.”

He said the partners will spend the next year working on baseline environmental and technical studies together as well as an engineering and design plan for the facility and hopes to submit an application for an environmental assessment in 2019.

“We estimate that a final investment decision will be made in 2020, subject to receipt of an environmental assessment certificate,” he said. “Subject to the final investment decision in 2020, first LNG from the facility would set sail for global markets by the end of 2024.”

He acknowledged there has been some pushback against the project, but suggested Kwispaa LNG has been well received overall.

“It’s also important to point out that the project, which will be located on Huu-ay-aht First Nations lands, was approved by citizens in a community referendum and is unanimously supported by Huu-ay-aht’s elected and hereditary leaders,” he said.

“We recognize there are diverse views on any large project and will continue to listen to all points of view as the project is developed. We respect all views and look forward to a robust public discussion as the project proceeds through the regulatory review process.”

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