The provincial government on Aug. 9 granted an Environmental Assessment Certificate (EAC) for an extension of FortisBC's gas pipeline project, which will feature a compressor station just outside the Valleycliffe neighbourhood in Squamish.
Minister of Environment Mary Polak and Minister of Natural Gas Development Rich Coleman approved the certificate that includes 30 enforceable conditions after consultations with local governments, Aboriginal groups, plus provincial and local agencies, the approval stated.
Some Valleycliffe and Squamish residents are not pleased with what My Sea to Sky founding director Tracey Saxby called a "rubber-stamp approval" process.
"There's a conflict of interest here and it really undermines the integrity of the process — the BC Liberals have a mandate to develop pipelines so of course they're going to approve this," she said. "The provincial environmental assessment process is broken."
Valleycliffe resident Tyler Jordan echoed Saxby's concern that there hasn't been enough discussion and openness in the process.
"It's something that's flown under the radar," he said. "It's the most immediate concern for Valleycliffe residents. We'd be impacted by the noise.
"In my opinion, it's not merely coincidence that it's located immediately outside the district boundaries. They're putting it where it makes the most economic sense for the least resistance to it. We'd like to see some other viable options evaluated at the same time."
Saxby added that of particular concern is that there has been at least one compressor station which has exploded every year in North America for the past five years. FortisBC has had no explosions.
"If you look at any of these explosions, the evacuation radius is 1.6 kilometres up to three kilometres and so... where they're going to put it, you realize most of Valleycliffe will be impacted if there's an accident," said Saxby. "It's that big 'if' and it's not a risk we're willing to take."
FortisBC spokesman Trevor Boudreau said that over the past three years there have been 10 open houses and nearly 100 meetings with small groups for this project.
"A project like this — there's always a differing of opinion in the community so we really work hard to sit down with people," Boudreau said. He pointed out that the compressor site above Valleycliffe is almost two kilometres from the residential area, and for the sake of comparison, pointed out that the existing Eagle Mountain compressor site in Coquitlam is 800 metres away from residences.
But Saxby said the Coquitlam compressor was in place before residential units were built and that studies didn't take into account the topography.
"It's a very unique location in that we have all of these exposed rock faces and anyone who lives there knows that the noise just echoes back and forth," Saxby said, adding that the compressor will emit a noise similar to a whisper for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The pipeline is approximately 47 km long and will deliver natural gas to the Woodfibre LNG facility, which received an environmental assessment certificate in October.
The site for the compressor was initially identified for the Squamish business park, but opposition from area residents and the Squamish Nation changed the timeline so a different compressor site could be determined. The project approval includes 30 enforceable conditions, amongst them:
• A grizzly bear mitigation and monitoring plan to ensure minimal impact to the local population, plus a contribution of $25,000 toward ongoing study and monitoring;
• Several plans to mitigate effects on Tsleil-Waututh's interests;
• Ongoing consultation with Aboriginal groups, plus protection of heritage sites;
• Construction of an underground, trenchless method across the Squamish River to reduce impact on the Skwelwil'em Squamish Estuary Wildlife Management area;
• Ongoing communication with the public, plus compliance with EAC conditions;
• Optimizing the compression capacity to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Some of the conditions are direct results of local directives regarding indigenous territory, including that the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) application states any location would not pose risks to members living within Squamish territory. Squamish Nation signed its own environmental certificate for approval in June of this year.
"I think there's a feeling that once a certificate is granted we don't talk to anyone anymore, we just kind of push forward and that's certainly not the case," said Boudreau. "We've committed to doing more noise studies and we're continuing to liaise with folks."
The approved EAO certificate stated that estimated construction work on the project will total $76 million, and will contribute 832 person years of direct employment, and during operations the project would involve 10 full-time equivalent employees.