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BC Politics
Municipal Politics

Court Asked to Intervene over Squamish Denial of Pipeline Drilling Permit

FortisBC line would feed natural gas to proposed Woodfibre LNG plant.

Bob Mackin 17 Mar

North Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee. Find his previous Tyee articles here.

FortisBC Energy wants the B.C. Supreme Court to overturn the district of Squamish's decision to deny a permit needed to conduct test drilling related to the proposed Woodfibre LNG plant.

Squamish district council voted 4-3 on Jan. 20 to deny the company the permit required to assess the feasibility of a trenchless natural gas pipeline across the Squamish River and part of the Skwelwil'em Squamish Estuary Wildlife Management Area.

FortisBC's petition asks for the court to grant the permit or order council to hold a new hearing.

City staff recommended the permit be issued, but a majority of councillors rejected the application because of the potential risk to the estuary and the plan for a compressor station in the town.

In the March 10 court filling, FortisBC claims councillors acted without jurisdiction by failing to "apply the objective guidelines of Squamish's official community plan and instead made their decision based upon irrelevant and extraneous considerations."

Mayor Patricia Heintzman voted with the majority, but was limited in what she could say in reaction to the petition now before the courts.

"I was disappointed, but we haven't determined our next step," Heintzman said. "Not surprised, per se -- it was an option they obviously have. They're under timeline issues and this is what they've chosen to do."

Woodfibre LNG opponent Eoin Finn of My Sea to Sky called the company's petition "an affront" to the protection of the estuary.

"If it turns out that a corporation has more rights over public land in the municipality than does the municipality itself, then we are indeed in trouble in this democracy," Finn said.

The FortisBC pipeline would feed natural gas to the proposed Woodfibre LNG plant for chilling and delivery to docked tankers. Woodfibre LNG, which formally applied to the Environmental Assessment Office in January, took over the former pulp mill site from Western Forest Products on Feb. 6.

It is on the west side of Howe Sound, within view of the Sea-to-Sky Highway, and could be operational before the 2017 provincial election. Squamish Nation is undertaking its own environmental assessment.

Drilling for details

FortisBC applied for the development permit last September after discussions with Squamish staff "over a number of months with respect to what Squamish required to obtain [it]," according to the company's petition. The permit came before council on Jan. 6, but discussion was delayed until Jan. 13 and finally put to a vote Jan. 20.

FortisBC's court filings claim that councillors were more interested in asking questions about the proposed Eagle Mountain to Woodfibre natural gas pipeline instead of the specifics of the test-drilling application.

The drilling is meant to obtain detailed information on subsurface soil conditions to help assess whether a pipeline could be run underground "by means of the more environmentally sensitive method of horizontal directional drilling, rather than having to dig a trench in which to lay a pipeline, lay the pipeline and then fill the trench to bury the pipeline," the petition said.

Fortis wanted to use portable equipment carried by a technician on a one-metre wide path, but "some clearing of brush, branches and potentially small trees (less than 10 centimetres)" might be necessary. The boreholes on the 30 metres by 30 metres worksite would be 25 centimetres wide and up to 70 metres deep.

LNG promo pumped up

The petition comes amid a flurry of recent activity to boost the B.C. liquefied natural gas industry. In mid-February, Prime Minister Stephen Harper granted federal tax breaks to developers of LNG terminals. The BC Liberal cabinet gave LNG Buy BC Advocate Gordon Wilson a one-year renewal on his $150,000 contract under the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training. Former BC Liberal leader and NDP cabinet minister Wilson was a star endorser of Premier Christy Clark during the 2013 election campaign.

The B.C. LNG Alliance has launched a new advertising campaign, featuring former Global TV reporter Jas Johal, that is aimed at demystifying LNG. Woodfibre LNG is one of seven members of the alliance and its president, Anthony Gelotti, is on the board. Gelotti's bio said he spent nine years as an energy asset developer with Enron.

ResourceWorks Society executive director Stewart Muir and social responsibility director Barinder Rasode appeared at a March 3 Squamish council meeting to release "A Citizen's Guide to LNG: Sea-to-Sky Country Edition," which touted the potential economic benefits of Woodfibre LNG. ResourceWorks is an industry-backed public relations campaign funded by the B.C. Business Council and chaired by Teck Resources vice-president Doug Horswill.

Rasode lost a bid to become mayor of Surrey last November. Muir is a former Vancouver Sun business editor and senior associate with the BC Liberal-allied Wazuku Advisory Group communications and lobbying firm. The Squamish Chief reported that Muir had separated from Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training deputy minister Athana Mentzelopoulos, one of Clark's closest advisors and the former head of Government Communications.  [Tyee]

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