Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District (SQCRD) director Des Nobels noted an increased level of helicopter activity over Dodge Cove by workers surveying land proposed for an LNG export facility by Aurora LNG, he stated at a recent SQCRD board meeting.
The director said that for the duration of 12 daytime hours, seven days a week, multiple helicopters have been flying over and behind the community to perform preliminary research and drilling operations.
And while the company bought the land to explore the feasibility of placing a terminal on Digby Island, Nobels said the proximity to the landing pads is causing a summer-time stir for residents.
“It’s been extremely disturbing. We’ve had a number of people who have made a very great effort in getting off the island as much as they can,” said the director.
“We haven’t had as many get-togethers as we normally do because people just aren’t outside as much.”
Nobels said that while the sound is prevalent, a trembling sensation can be felt for Dodge Cove residents (totalling approximately 30 with recent census numbers).
“If you’re close enough, it’s felt on the body. It’s not just the sound. It’s the physical awareness as well. That whomp-whomp-whomp. It’s fairly significant, and really distracting.”
However, project officials with Aurora LNG state that helicopters do not expressly fly over the community and pilots were told to avoid the area.
“Aurora LNG’s established helicopter traffic routes do not travel directly over Dodge Cove. We have instructed the helicopter pilots conducting the flights associated with the Aurora LNG project to make it a priority to avoid the Dodge Cove airspace as much as possible,” said Andrew Hamilton, Aurora LNG general manager.
“We have also periodically altered our flight paths and ceased helicopter operations on request from the Dodge Cove community.”
Hamilton explained that not all helicopter traffic is associated with the project, as multiple flights take place to and from Prince Rupert Airport on Digby Island.
“The closest helicopter landing to Dodge Cove that has occurred to date was approximately half a kilometre away and on the other side of Mount Comblain,” he said.
The regional district (SQCRD) also sent a letter to Aurora LNG officials notifying them of an encroachment of part of its project onto lands included in the Dodge Cove Official Community Plan (OCP) boundaries. The area is located at the northern part of Aurora’s “Area of Interest” and west of Dodge Cove.
“This is of particular concern to the SQCRD, and residents of Dodge Cove, given the close proximity of the proposed Aurora LNG Project footprint to the community’s watershed, an environmentally sensitive area identified in the Official Community Plan of Dodge Cove Bylaw No. 199, 1989,” wrote Doug Chapman, SQCRD chief administrative officer in the letter.
Hamilton confirmed that Aurora has been in contact regarding the land, and that the company isn’t required to seek an amendment to the bylaw.
“The proposed Aurora LNG project is operating under an approved Investigative License of Occupation (ILO) which authorizes our activities during the investigative phase that our project is currently in. During this phase, Aurora LNG is not required to seek an amendment to the bylaw. This has been confirmed by a board member of the [SQCRD],” said Hamilton.
Director Nobels also made a motion to remind the province and other regional districts and municipalities to make sure that they check their own boundaries and ensure that proposed projects don’t encroach into OCP boundaries.
“They should be looking at any boundaries in existence in their permitting area, so they have to do their due diligence as well. They can’t just hand it off to us [or] the companies. The province actually has to be involved in the process, seeing as they’re the ones issuing the permits,” said Nobels.