Woodfibre LNG has received federal approval.
The proponents of the liquefied natural gas processing and export facility — located about seven kilometres southwest of Squamish — announced the news in a press release on March 18.
"We're very pleased. It's a big step," said Byng Giraud, Woodfibre's VP of corporate affairs, in a March 21 phone call.
"It's one step on a longer journey, (and) we're not done yet, but it's a big step."
The project underwent a substituted environmental assessment process, where the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) coordinated the review process on behalf of both the EAO and the Canadian Environment Assessment Agency.
The project — located on traditional Squamish Nation territory — received the Squamish Nation's approval on Oct. 14, 2015, followed by an Environmental Assessment Certificate from the provincial EAO on Oct. 26.
The approval from federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna comes with legally binding conditions, including mitigation measures and follow-up requirements throughout the life of the project.
"The Woodfibre LNG Project underwent a thorough, science-based environmental assessment that considered public and Indigenous input and views," McKenna said in a release. "The process benefited from scientific and technical expertise, Indigenous traditional knowledge and constructive feedback that helped to inform my decision."
In a phone call the day of the announcement, Squamish Mayor Patricia Heintzman said she wasn't surprised by the decision.
"It seems to be the modus operandi for federal and provincial environmental assessment agencies to give certificates with conditions, so that's not surprising," she said, adding it's hard to determine if the conditions are onerous or not, or if they will lead to changes in the proponent's plans.
Community group My Sea to Sky — long opposed to the project — issued a statement of its own on March 19.
"The decision is a snub to the 3,000-plus people who objected in the public comment periods of the Environmental Assessment, the almost 9,000 people who signed the Save Howe Sound Declaration and the 800-plus people who gave voice to their dissent in three recent town hall meetings with their Member of Parliament. It ignores the resolutions and objections of elected councils all around Howe Sound," the statement reads in part.
It also includes a long list of reasons for the group's opposition, including the plant's once-through seawater cooling method, the fracking and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the project and the presence of LNG tankers in Howe Sound.
"The project is seriously out of line with Squamish's vision for its future. Rather, it is a step backward to an earlier industrial age that our people — young and old — have no desire to revisit," the statement reads.
It can be read in full in Pique's letters section beginning on Page 9.
On March 21, Woodfibre announced it has awarded the front-end engineering and design contract to Houston-based firm KBR, Inc.
"Our engineers and our consultants are working with them, and hopefully we can get to a final design, because there are some things we do have to change based on these environmental conditions," Giraud said.
The project still requires a number of permits from the oil and gas commission, Giraud said, and the Fortis BC pipeline that will supply the plant is also awaiting provincial and Squamish Nation approval.
If all goes according to plan, a final investment decision could be made by the end of the year, and construction on the plant could start sometime next year, Giraud said.