Opposition has been growing along the Sea to Sky corridor to a proposed liquefied natural gas plant and a connected pipeline.
Suddenly a project that looked like it might have smooth sailing is facing a rough time.
The Woodfibre LNG proposal would see a terminal built on an old mill site on Howe Sound. It would be fed by a FortisBC pipeline, expanded and slightly extended on an existing route.
Because the project would largely be built on land already disturbed by industrial development, it was generally expected that it would find quick approval and perhaps become the first LNG project built, of the several the B.C. government has boasted are on the horizon.
But numerous groups have sprung to life since the project was proposed last year including My Sea to Sky, which now boasts thousands of followers on its Facebook page, and a group of Squamish First Nation women, Skwomesh Action, which organized a rally in Squamish this past Sunday.
Melyssa Desilles, co-founder of My Sea to Sky, said her group sprang to life last year, quickly growing from an e-mail thread that had about 20 followers, to an organization that now has 5,000 names on its e-mail list.
Ms. Desilles works for ForestEthics, an environmental organization that is involved in several campaigns in B.C., including in the Great Bear Rainforest, where logging and government planning are the issues, to the Sacred Headwaters, where mining and petroleum exploration have been opposed.
She moved to Squamish two years ago and when she saw the Woodfibre project would result in a pipeline across the Squamish River estuary and LNG tankers in Howe Sound, she felt compelled to act.
"I work for an environmental organization so I'm sort of in the [activist] scene. But I haven't set up a group myself before. I just felt there was a need and so I got involved," she said. "Once we got the group going, we were just overwhelmed with people saying, 'I want to join this fight. I want to stop [the LNG project].'"
Many of the Squamish residents who have come forward, she said, are getting involved in activism for the first time in their lives.
"It was very inspiring to find people who are just normal citizens, who work and have kids and they mountain bike and they ski and all this stuff and now they are taking time out of that in order to show up to an open house and ask questions," Ms. Desilles said. "Everybody is just throwing themselves 150 per cent into it, and for me that is incredibly inspiring because I was really used to existing in this activist network, where we were all engaged … but here it is like this [public] awakening has taken place."
The B.C. Environmental Assessment Office recently closed the public consultation periods for both the proposed LNG plant and the pipeline. (Although the two phases of the project are linked, they are being examined separately by the EAO.) A quick scan of the hundreds of pages of submissions shows the vast majority of the public responses are opposed to the development.
Ms. Desilles says the outpouring of public opposition is encouraging, but she's not expecting the EAO to reject the project.
"We expect to hear by June, July if the application for an environmental certificate has been accepted. And we're prepared [for bad news]," she said, noting that the EAO approves more than 90 per cent of the projects it reviews.
Ms. Desilles said she is not discouraged, however, and expects opposition to the LNG project to continue to grow. She knows if enough people object, the LNG project will become a political problem for the government.
"We're continuing. We're increasing our outreach effort," she said. "We canvassed on the ground last year and found there were quite a few people even in Squamish who didn't know about Woodfibre. And that was quite scary. Wow, there's still people here who don't know what's being proposed for their town."
Those uninformed people, she hopes, are future recruits for My Sea to Sky and future headaches for the Woodfibre LNG project.