Further exploration of the proposed $30 billion LNG facility at Sarita Bay can now go ahead, following an affirmative vote from the Huu-ay-aht First Nations. 121 out of the 200 votes cast at the People’s Assembly on Saturday, Nov. 29 were in favour of continued exploration of the proposed facility.
Huu-ay-aht elected chief councillor Jeff Cook said that he felt good about the vote, despite the tension in the room.
“Although there was some division in the room, I think at the end of the day we all recognized the democratic decision,” he said.
With an affirmative from the Huu-ay-aht people, the project can now move ahead into the second stage of the project.
According to Huu-ay-aht councillor John Jack, that includes “feasibility studies, environmental studies, safety studies, economic studies” which will take between six and twelve months to complete.
“They’re going to be very exhaustive studies that will be submitted to governments, including our own, for review to make an even greater decision in the future.”
Part of the motion voted upon at the People’s Assembly included a commitment to work with local governments, including the city of Port Alberni, the regional district and local First Nations in the area.
“We need to ensure that we have a fair, honest and open process speaking with our local neighbours as well as any affected First Nations in the area and we have a lot of work to do there,” Jack said
Admitting that “a significant minority that includes some very influential people individuals within our community” were in opposition to the proposal, Jack said that there is work that needs to be done within the Huu-ay-aht “to really champion a real, effective example for all of British Columbia and Canada in how First Nations businesses, governments and communities can approach economic development projects of this scale.”
If the project goes ahead, it could also see improvements in the roads between proposed facility and Port Alberni, said Jack.
“If this project is going to go ahead, one would think that improving the road would be another condition of this being a safe facility because you can’t have a road like that with hundreds of people travelling down it everyday,” he said.
Steelhead LNG CEO Nigel Kuzemko said that would be a conversation that they would need to have with the relevant in the upcoming months, saying that “we wouldn’t be able to send people down there to work or just to visit the facility on a regular basis without that road being improved.”
While the proposed LNG facility is still years away from the final investment decision in 2018, Steelhead LNG CEO Nigel Kuzemko said that the proposal has receive positive feedback from government as well as piquing the interest of buyers in India.
Kuzemko said that the pertnership with the Huu-ay-aht starting at such an early stage in the project would help allay the concerns of foreign investors.
“The market sees a partnership between the First Nations and the proponent at such an early stage as a differentiator in the market place,” he said, adding that they’re “finding now that the phone is beginning to ring and we’re sure that once news gets out of what happened here tonight that will definitely improve the chances of success of the project.”
If the proposed LNG facility goes ahead, it will operate for a minimum of 35 years and will process 24 million tonnes annually. However, while the lease of the Huu-ay-aht lands to Steelhead LNG will expire in 35 years, Kuzemko said that with other LNG facilities lasting longer than that, the one at Sarita Bay could as well.