Malahat LNG: Public open house is just another "ticked box"

Originally posted on September 17, 2015 on adamolsen.ca

Steelhead LNG and Williams hosted their first public open house at the Malahat First Nation cultural centre for the proposed the Malahat LNG and Island Gas Connector pipeline project on Wednesday evening.

The cultural centre was teeming with consultants, members from Malahat and other WSANEC First Nations communities and residents from the communities surrounding the Saanich Inlet. This proposal has captured the attention of its neighbours.

The open house was as expected, information boards lined the outside walls of the cultural building showing artists renderings and the potential “benefits” of this “opportunity”. There was no formal presentation with questions and answers, rather there were dozens of individual conversations with project consultants.

As Malahat First Nation administrator Lawrence Lewis said when they announced the project back in late August, “There’s a thousand things that have to happen for this opportunity to be realized, and really today we ticked the first box.”

That is what we face, a box ticking exercise and the open house was just one of a “thousand things” that the proponents need to do to successfully tick all the boxes. It appears that it does not matter what the proponents hear, all that matters is that they provide an opportunity for it to be said. Another box ticked.

The process, that was outlined to me by one of the hired guns, is complicated. They have started the design phase of the proposal, and there is currently no set timeline for the approval processes which is started once all the designs are completed and the applications are submitted. The proposed floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility must pass a provincial environmental assessment and the proposed pipeline route triggers a National Energy Board (NEB) process as it crosses an international border. Once the provincial process has started the provincial government must give their answer to Steelhead LNG within 180 days and they must also comply with federal regulation and environmental standards.

The consultations fragment the community, they divide and conquer. It is the approach with First Nations and it was the approach in the open house. The more people who show up, the more “consultation” they will claim they did, stay home and will claim the community supports them. Damned if we do, more damned if we don’t!

All the proponents have to do is weather the storm, tick all the boxes and attempt to mitigate concerns. So what do we do? The response from community must be coordination, education and participation.

The first step is to coordinate. It is critical that all the various communities of people surrounding the Saanich Inlet come together to organize the diverse voices who will be affected by an LNG terminal at Bamberton.

Secondly, we must educate ourselves. The provincial environmental assessment and federal NEB processes are complex and overwhelming. It is critical to understand how these bureaucratic systems work to ensure our voice is heard and that we can clearly articulate our interests, rights and responsibilities.

Thirdly, we must participate. I have seen, as an intervenor in the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, that it is easy to be discouraged by the process because it feels like they are designed to frustrate participants. I believe they are and I feel they look out for the interests of the proponent before those of British Columbians.

Unfortunately, the context of our short and medium-term discussions have been set for us by speculative developers hoping for a turn in the LNG markets. As unlikely as this proposal appears we are in the process now.

Lewis set the tone for us when he said,  “It’s never been done before, but you’ve got to be bold; you’ve got to set some timelines and you have to be aggressive and you’ve got to take some action. We’re going to work hard.”

The communities around the Saanich Inlet have responded in the past and we are responding now. The Saanich Inlet Network has been established in order to connect the people of the Saanich Inlet and bring us together. So far there are approximately 250 people who have joined, and 21 volunteers. This effort must match the millions of dollars Steelhead LNG appears willing to spend and dozens of consultants they are prepared to hire.

The goal of the Network is to address this proposal but there is more to it than that. It is about taking control of the context, engaging our communities to create a collective vision of the future of the Saanich Inlet.

Frankly, it is deeply frustrating that we are dragged into this box ticking exercise. The implications are serious; this is about the physical space we share. It is about the environment, the quality of life in our communities and resilience of our local and provincial economy not just for today, tomorrow or 30 years but for many generations who have yet to be born. We can see the passion of our connection to our place in the stories that people are sharing about our place.

Please join the Saanich Inlet Network and encourage your friends, family and neighbours who live work and play in the Saanich Inlet to join as well.

You can share your story about how you interact with our place here.