A number of Barkley Sound residents are ‘breaking the silence’ about their opposition to the Kwispaa LNG project at Sarita Bay.
Members of the Barkley Sound Alliance, an association that promotes the wellbeing of the Barkley Sound ecosystem, hosted a protest against the project on Wednesday, Feb. 28. The protest coincided with an Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce dinner meeting at the Italian Hall, which featured speakers from Steelhead LNG and Huu-ay-aht First Nations in a presentation designed to inform and update the Port Alberni business community on the co-managed project.
“We’re kind of breaking the silence,” said Alliance member Bernadette Wyton. “We don’t think it’s a very good idea.”
The major industrial project, she said, does not fit in with the vision and aesthetic of the area’s tourism industry, which is where many residents are employed.
“It will definitely damage it,” she said.
A planning strategy by the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) determined a comprehensive plan for protecting the sensitive areas of the Sound. The strategy brought 15 major stakeholders to the table and determined they had a common interest to maintain the quality of the environment and resources by guiding the type and scale of future development.
“Under that plan, an area like [Sarita Bay] would be protected, not industrialized,” Bernadette explained.
Bernadette’s husband, Keith Wyton, is currently an ACRD board director for the area of Bamfield. He explained that the province had also implemented a Vancouver Island Land Use Plan in the 1990s. The planning document describes goals for land use on Vancouver Island, setting tourism, recreation and natural values as a high priority.
“They totally uphold the Barkley Sound Planning Strategy and wanted to see it strengthened,” said Keith.
Both Keith and Bernadette, as well as other members of the Alliance, feel that the Kwispaa LNG ignores previous plans, which designate the Sarita Estuary as an Environmental Protection Area deserving of the highest level of protection and conservation.
The LNG project, Keith said, could potentially be British Columbia’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, which would have a direct impact on rising sea levels—something he described as a “slow motion tsunami.”
“That would devastate our community,” he added.
The proposed natural gas liquefaction and export facility will be located on Huu-ay-aht traditional territory.
“As a treaty nation, we are pursuing this incredible economic development opportunity to generate wealth to fund badly needed programs, services and infrastructure,” said Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. in a press release.
He added that he was aware of the group of protesters. “We want them to know we respect and honour their opinion,” he said. “Our people have lived on this land for many generations, and we want to ensure it is not harmed so that future generations can move home and benefit from our Hahuuli (traditional territory).”
Huu-ay-aht communications director Heather Thomson pointed out, “Huu-ay-aht also had similar concerns as Keith’s group does. That’s where this world-leading (process) is driven from, the fact the Huu-ay-aht citizens live there, as well.”
Bernadette Wyton said the development won’t only be affecting one group.
“We live together in the same place,” she summarized. “We’re all one family out there. This is one thing we disagree on.”
Trevor Boudreau, Steelhead LNG communications director, said the consultation process is only getting started.
“This comes down to how we approached Huu-ay-aht,” he said. “We came in not with an idea, but an ask: do you want to explore this together? Now it’s time to bring in the larger community.”
Both Steelhead LNG and the Huu-ay-aht First Nations have independent environmental consultants looking at the plan. Boudreau said this is important because “we ensure both our views are heard. There’s a double check on everything that’s going on in terms of the environmental studies.”
He said Steelhead is committed to a Sarita Watershed renewal and enhancement fund that they created as a result of conversations they had with Huu-ay-aht.
“Huu-ay-aht citizens had listed Sarita River in disrepair,” he said. “Salmon used to come before forestry and logging operations. The salmon just don’t come anymore. We want a guarantee that the water and rivers can be returned to their natural productivity.”
Six Huu-ay-aht citizens have been employed for a collective 2,500 hours already, he said, with another season on the horizon.
“There are already great things coming from this project, whether this project is even built. That’s something I’m extremely proud of.”
Bernadette argued that for the billions of dollars that need to be spent on the project, only a couple hundred long-term jobs will result. Most of them will not be local.
She described the project as “a silver bullet”—a solution communities will use to solve a lot of problems fast, often to the deteriment of those communities.
“We’re trying to promote a more sustainable program for economic development,” she explained.
— With files from Susan Quinn