A comprehensive management plan for Howe Sound is needed to guide future decisions in the face of major proposals such as the liquefied natural gas (LNG) processing and export facility that’s envisioned at the site of the old Woodfibre pulp mill near Squamish, a regional environmental group says.
The fragile recovery of the Howe Sound ecosystem is threatened by proposals such as Burnco Rock Products’ proposed aggregate mine at McNab Creek and Pacific Energy Corp.’s recent LNG proposal, said Jeff Gau, Future of Howe Sound Society (FHSS) spokesperson.
The proposal at McNab Creek, and the Woodfibre LNG plan are just two examples of projects whose potential impacts would cross jurisdictional boundaries and therefore require a region-wide decision-making approach, Gau said.
For the past couple of years, FHSS members have been visiting municipal halls, First Nations leaders and others, attempting to garner support for a comprehensive management plan to help guide the future of Howe Sound. So far they’ve managed to secure expressions of support in principle for the idea but, as yet, no firm commitment to participate in the development of such a plan, Gau said.
Representatives of local, provincial and federal governments and First Nations are invited to the Future of Howe Sound forum planned on April 13 in West Vancouver, Gau said. Organized by FHSS, one of the forum’s objectives is to determine “a way forward for a comprehensive management plan that takes into consideration the airshed, watersheds, marine environment and the surrounding lands” of Howe Sound, organizers say.
The McNab aggregate proposal is currently undergoing a blended federal/provincial environmental review, while Woodfibre LNG proponents are in the process of presenting their plan to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office.
Gau said at least two LNG proposals, including one at McNab Creek, have been put forward in the past. There’s an urgent need for the region’s diverse interests to come together to ensure regional co-operation when these sorts of proposals arise.
“This repeated series of proposals for heavy new industry in Howe Sound, we believe, underscores the need for a comprehensive management plan put in place for the Howe Sound region,” he said.
As an example of the current piecemeal approach, he said Sunshine Coast Regional District has a document called “We Envision” that sets forth a set of ecosystem management objectives. But the document’s reach stops at the north end of the Howe Sound Pulp and Paper mill at Port Mellon, he said.
“There have been hundreds of millions spent on remediation of Howe Sound, and there’s been a significant recovery of the sound, but it’s very fragile and it’s not a given that the overall recovery will not be put in jeopardy by heavy, new industry,” he said. “This [Woodfibre LNG] is clearly a large project. We don’t know a lot about it, but there’s certainly potential for impacts such as what I’ve outlined and we have concerns about those potential impacts.”
Gau said the Howe Sound restoration efforts have contributed to the growth of clean industries such as outdoor recreation, tourism and filming.
“The [potential return] of heavy industry is putting at risk the new economy that’s developing, particularly tourism,” he said. “We’ve been told by the growing film industry that they won’t be interested in bringing filming to the region if there’s heavy industry including potential environmental degradation or excessive noise as a backdrop in Howe Sound.”