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The re-industrialization of Howe Sound would devastate BC's environment and tourism economy

If it were any other country, this southernmost fjord in the Northern Hemisphere would be declared a national treasure and protected.  Like Stanley Park.But it isn’t.

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As far back as the ‘80s, the Province’s own report recommended a Management Plan for Howe Sound. Two such efforts started, but neither progressed further than an inventory of resources and activities. The province's response to date is that it has no appetite for planning and will not put a moratorium on any of the projects currently proposed for the Sound.  It has suggested scoping out a Cumulative Effects Assessment Framework but has made no commitment to actioning this any time soon.  

The call to the province for a Management Plan began anew in 2010 in response to a massive open-pit gravel mine proposed for McNab Creek (#1 on the map – the view South toward Gambier Island from its mouth is pictured below) in the heart of Howe Sound, which would obliterate the estuary of this salmon-bearing stream. 

Since that time, the Box Canyon IPP (Independent Power Project) in McNab Valley  has been approved, as have two others near Woodfibre. The province has advertised the tendering of two woodlots on Gambier Island that could see up to one quarter of Gambier Island clear cut. Fortis BC announced, and then hastily commenced an environmental assessment process for twinning 52 kilometres of 20” gas pipeline through the Coquitlam and Squamish watersheds and a new gas compressor station right in the town of Squamish.  Garibaldi at Squamish new Ski resort and housing development began an environmental assessment process, and Metro Vancouver announced Port Mellon as a shortlisted site for a huge garbage incinerator. 

Other significant projects include the proposed residential community of South Britannia Beach -- directly across from Woodfibre (close to Britannia Copper mine, a repurposed part of BC’s chequered industrial history now attracting many tourists), and the Sea-to-Sky Gondola just south of Squamish, a $24 million investment in Tourism that is scheduled to open this Spring.

Each of these projects require consultation with an informed public this year. How this can be done in any meaningful way is a very large question. A responsible government would take the time to fully articulate and evaluate these proposals in consultation with all affected parties.

The Woodfibre LNG project is especially threatening. While this is in its early stages, it is disquieting that this controversial Singaporean company, owned by Indonesian billionaire Sukanto Tanoto (whose companies have violated numerous environmental regulations), has no previous experience in building or operating LNG facilities or with exporting LNG. It has proposed a massive $1.7 billion floating LNG liquefaction and storage facility – to be constructed overseas and floated into place. This may be the world’s first such combination.

The major capital investment involved in that construction will not be in BC. Residential development in a wide area around the proposed floating liquefaction plant and storage tanker will be strictly quarantined – this because of the dangers inherent in liquefying and storing some 100,000 tonnes of flammable gas, especially so close together on experimental floating structures – the thermal energy equivalent of 70 Hiroshima-size atom bombs.  LNG plants have been known to explode, and, as recently as 1955, the pier at Woodfibre collapsed into the deep, taking the onshore warehouse with it.  The pictures opposite shows the very large size of these monster LNG tankers – three football fields long.

The predicted 100 permanent jobs (33 x 3 shifts) are highly specialized, are unlikely to be filled from Squamish’s current labour pool, and may not be filled by BC or even Canadian experts - Woodfibre will have to compete for these with the much larger LNG plants proposed for Kitimat and Prince Rupert. If, as is proposed, the plant is powered by natural gas, its yearly discharge of 600,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (equivalent to ~140,000 additional vehicles in the Sound), choking Sulphur Dioxide (35+ tonnes of it - 12% of all of Metro’s) and smog-forming NOx emissions (~ 27,000 vehicles) will have serious air quality consequences for the Sound’s confined airshed , and for the attractiveness of Howe Sound as the iconic gateway to Whistler/Squamish’s $1.3 billion tourism economy.

Clear cutting the side of Gambier Island visible to Whistler-bound tourists and Squamish gondola visitors will not help that economy, nor the “Supernatural BC” brand image so vital to all parts of BC’s $14 billion tourism economy. LNG tanker traffic will inevitably disrupt the growing recreational and tourism activities in the Sound, and increase risks for the communities, boaters, ships , airplanes and ferries they pass by in entering and exiting the Pacific. The incinerator would, apart from spewing 114,000 tonnes of air emissions each year, require a landfill site for some highly-toxic residual ash. These, and other effects, are tradeoffs requiring extensive consultation with all affected parties, including First Nations, for whom this is unceded Coast Salish territory.  Ever-so-short windows for public comment on green-washed, piecemeal views of  these projects is not “extensive consultation”.

Howe Sound should not be an experiment - particularly not a rushed one.   Nor a sacrifice on the altar of “rip it and ship it” faux-economics and “we’ll all be rich” pipe dreams.

Canada’s fjordland is unique – a place of beauty, with natural capital worth preserving for this and future generations. FHSS will be urging our provincial and federal leaders to heed sensible suggestions for a better approach – a Management Plan aimed at securing a sustainable future for the Sound.

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