Now that the draft environmental assessment has been made public

North Coast reacts to PNW LNG environmental assessment

Federal environment minister to make a decision on effects of project by March 22

Reaction by the North Coast to the environmental impact of the proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal on Lelu Island has been pouring in after the 257-page draft Environmental Assessment Report was released last Wednesday.

Every organization from partner entities such as the Prince Rupert Port Authority to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) itself has responded to the report, while North Coast-based First Nations villages, environmental groups and the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce have also weighed in to the news.

First, CEAA added on to their report with more comment, with CEAA communications advisor Karen Fish explaining the extensive consultation with First Nations that took place throughout the process, incorporating ‘traditional knowledge’ into its conclusions.

“As the Crown Consultation Coordinator, the Agency has integrated the Government of Canada’s Indigenous consultation activities into the environmental assessment process to the greatest extent possible. This project has benefitted from multiple rounds of public and Indigenous consultation, and traditional knowledge collected during these consultation opportunities supported the Agency’s preparation of the draft Environmental Assessment Report and potential environmental assessment conditions for the project,” said Fish.

In addition, Fish provided the timeline that the Minister of Environment and Climate Change has to consider the report and recommended conditions stemming from the 30-day public input period and making a determination on the significance on the environmental effects – specifically within 365 days from the beginning of the federal environmental assessment.

“The legislated timeline starts when the Notice of Commencement of an Environmental Assessment is posted to the Registry website and ends when the Minister makes her decision. As of today, February 11, 2016, the timeline of the project is on day 325,” Fish said last week in an email.

March 22 would be the final date that the Minister could make her decision based on that timeline.

The Prince Rupert Port Authority has developed a Marine Mammal Management Plan to try and identify species at potential risk from increased traffic to the port, including harbour porpoise.

“The Port has a number of management plans currently in development that will systematically evaluate and reduce risks not only to marine mammals but also, for example, water and air quality,” said Port manager of corporate communications Michael Gurney.

For greenhouse gases emitted by the terminal, Gurney stated that the Port keeps an inventory of energy use and emissions from all its terminals and facilities.

“While no limits are strictly defined, the baseline inventory is being used to measure the effectiveness of specific emission reduction initiatives currently underway,” he said.

In the Port’s capacity as a member of the environmental assessment working group, the organization provided expertise and guidance on marine safety and guidance related to their responsibility on the stewardship of federal lands in the area. The Port also contributed scientific data on sustainability initiatives, such as animal programs and water, noise and air conservation programs.

Overall, the Prince Rupert Port Authority was satisfied with the report and CEAA’s methodology.

“We are satisified that the draft report represents a thorough summary of issues and concerns related to responsibilities within the Port’s jurisdiction. The report’s findings also adequately reflect the project elements and issues that were assessed during the course of the review … The CEAA draft report finds that with mitigation measures proposed by PNW LNG, salmon-spawning habitat in the vicinity of the project will not be significantly adversely affected. The research and analysis that support these findings have been extensive and thorough,” said Gurney.

The report was met with skepticism however, from the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition and Greg Horne, energy coordinator.

“We are very disappointed in the CEAA draft report. It is an incredibly superficial report that omits critical peer-reviewed science that is key to properly assessing the true environmental impacts of the LNG project. Given the scientifically-established importance of Flora Bank to Skeena salmon, to say this project will not have significant adverse impacts on salmon is completely incorrect and shows us once again that the CEAA process is broken,” said Horne.

“A process that says it’s OK to build a massive shipping port on top of our most sensitive wild salmon sanctuary is unquestionably a broken process. The LNG plant should never have been proposed there in the first place. We want to permanently protect Flora Bank, not build industrial facilities on top of it. How difficult is that to understand?” added Yahaan (Donald Wesley), Hereditary Chief of the Gitwilgyoots, one of the nine allied tribes of the Lax Kw’alaams.

Conversely, the report was welcomed, but the project will be held to strong conditions put forth by Tsimshian Chiefs representing Metlakatla, Gitxaala, Kitselas and Kitsumkalum First Nations.

“We strongly advocated for additional research, particularly 3D-modelling, to understand the impacts of Pacific NorthWest LNG’s project on Flora Bank. This work has been completed, independently reviewed by our environmental teams and the CEAA. We will review CEAA’s scientific findings and develop our conditions that give us full confidence that salmon fishery is protected,” said Metlakatla Chief Harold Leighton.

“All of our leaders and people have been weighing the benefits against the potential impacts through multiple public meetings. We are encouraged that the proponent has undertaken significant additional work to address concerns and that the independent scientists at CEAA have validated this work,” added Kitselas Chief Joe Bevan.

Gitxaala’s Chief Cliff White and Kitsumkalum Chief Don Roberts echoed the sentiment in a joint release sent out by the Nations.

Finally, the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce added their support to the document, recognizing the draft as a significant accomplishment that will bring “long-term, family-supporting jobs and an increased tax base to the North Coast while protecting salmon and their habitat”.

“Reading the 257-page report, two things jump off the page – local citizens, organizations and First Nations actively engaged in rigorous process; and the regulator listened,” said Chamber past president John Farrell, noting that the report states even the greenhouse gas concerns would be different if the agency were allowed to consider the positive result of LNG users “displacing dirtier fuels”.