Steelhead LNG hosted a number of community open houses this week, including one in Port Alberni, to discuss Kwispaa LNG.
The proposed liquified natural gas (LNG) export facility will be developed on lands owned by the Huu-ay-aht First Nations at Nuumaquimyiis Bay (also known as Sarita Bay) in the Alberni Inlet.
Members of Steelhead LNG and the Huu-ay-aht First Nations were present during the open house on Tuesday to address questions, interests and concerns from dozens of members of the public.
Tiffany Murray, vice president of external affairs for Steelhead LNG, said the open houses are an opportunity for Steelhead to present and share information about the project, but also a way to seek feedback and hear the interests and concerns of the community.
Kwispaa LNG is still in the “early stages” of planning. In October, Steelhead LNG and Huu-ay-aht First Nations submitted a project description submission to environmental regulators. Next will be an application for Environmental Assessment, which can take 18 months to two years.
The first comment period has closed, but Tiffany said there will be “a number of others” for a project of this size.
“There will be multiple opportunities for comment and feedback,” she said. “At numerous intervals throughout the process, we want to understand what’s important to the community so we can integrate it into our planning and design. Having public participation is going to create the best outcome.”
According to Katie Baker, community engagement lead with Steelhead LNG, some of the commonly heard concerns over the three open houses in Ucluelet, Port Alberni and Bamfield included how the facility will interact with other vessels and recreational craft, how the facility will impact the natural environment and interest in employment opportunities and questions about benefits to the local economy.
Not everyone is optimistic about the project. A few members of the Barkley Sound Alliance—a non-profit organization opposing the LNG facility and other large scale industrial development in Barkley Sound—were present during Tuesday’s open house in Port Alberni.
One member, Keith Wyton, said 200 people have now signed a declaration opposing Kwispaa LNG. This means that one third of Bamfield’s census population does not support the project, he said.
“Barkley Sound is a national treasure,” he continued. “We can’t have that scale of project developed without degrading it. We shouldn’t undervalue how important it is.”
Wyton and other members of the Alliance are worried about the negative impact that an accident might have on the area. Bamfield is known for its tourism industry, as well as fishing. The project also goes against previous planning protocols for the Barkley Sound, including the Barkley Sound Planning Strategy and the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan. The Alliance has identified a top 10 list of reasons to oppose Kwispaa LNG which also includes the dangers of fracking, an “irresponsible” global impact, pollution and ecosystem damage.
Wyton acknowledged that the Huu-ay-aht First Nations is involved in the project, so the Alliance is trying to be respectful of their efforts.
“We don’t want to be overly negative,” he said. “But the feeling is that the project is much bigger than a community. It’s global. We support First Nations’ efforts for economic development, but we can’t support this project.”
Other concerned parties can sign the declaration or learn more about the Barkley Sound Alliance by visiting www.barkleysoundalliance.com.
Robert Dennis Sr., chief councillor for Huu-ay-aht First Nations, grew up near Sarita Bay, and described seeing the Sarita Valley “devastated” by logging and clear-cutting.
“[Kwispaa LNG] is going to be here for 25 years,” he said. “After 25 years, we’ll have earned a very significant economic benefit.”
With this benefit, he said, Huu-ay-aht First Nations will be able to reduce harvest activity in the Sarita Valley, and see the forest and river “brought back to life.”
“To me, this is a way of renewing,” he explained. “That’s what it means to me. I’m looking at 50 to 100 years from now.”