A contentious liquefied natural gas project will be under scrutiny when the elected band council of the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation asks its members to debate where the docking facilities should be located in northern British Columbia.
Pacific NorthWest LNG hopes to build an $11.4-billion liquefaction terminal on Lelu Island while TransCanada Corp. is lined up to construct the $5-billion Prince Rupert Gas Transmission (PRGT) pipeline from northeastern B.C. to the island.
"The Lax Kw'alaams band is holding a series of community engagement meetings to provide an update on the Pacific NorthWest LNG project," according to a notice posted on the Lax Kw'alaams band's website. The notice said the topic to be discussed will be "the potential relocation of the proposed PNW marine terminal to Ridley Island, and the progress with concluding agreements with PNW, PRGT, the provincial and the federal governments."
The liquefaction terminal to super-cool natural gas into liquid form would remain on Lelu Island, no matter whether the proposed docking facilities stay on Agnew Bank under current plans or relocate to the waters of Chatham Sound west of Ridley Island.
On Wednesday, B.C. Premier Christy Clark paid her first visit to the remote aboriginal community of Lax Kw'alaams, whose members are divided over the energy project.
In 2014, Pacific NorthWest LNG ruled out the Ridley Island dock option, which would have involved building an underwater pipeline from Lelu Island to nearby Ridley Island, and constructing a pier carrying a separate pipeline from Ridley Island to Chatham Sound.
But Lax Kw'alaams Mayor John Helin and several councillors are keen to re-examine the consortium's less-expensive Ridley Island option. That relocation would place the two shipping berths farther away from ecologically sensitive Flora Bank, a sandbar visible at low tide and located next to Lelu Island.
Mr. Helin believes there is an opportunity for the 3,600-member Lax Kw'alaams First Nation to negotiate with the LNG consortium and jointly devise better ways to avoid harming juvenile salmon habitat on Flora Bank.
Lelu Island and Flora Bank are located on the traditional territory of the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation. Court challenges, shaky economics and infighting among some hereditary chiefs have complicated matters for the Pacific NorthWest LNG, which is led by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas.
The first meeting organized by the band will be Jan. 28 in the community of Lax Kw'alaams, followed one day later by a gathering in Prince Rupert, which is located a 45-minute ferry ride south of Lax Kw'alaams.
A third and final meeting will be held Jan. 30 in Vancouver. An estimated 800 people live in Lax Kw'alaams, while roughly 1,800 are based in Prince Rupert and another 1,000 in Vancouver and elsewhere.
Pacific NorthWest LNG is expected to make its final investment decision this summer about the project, possibly a couple of months after the B.C. election on May 9.
Critics opposed to the project have complained about an e-mail sent last August to many Lax Kw'alaams members from LNG supporters, who claimed that the dock would be relocated and a suspension-bridge proposal scrapped. "The project is going ahead with the same benefit package without threatening the fish species or Flora Bank ecosystem," according to the e-mail.
For now, the Petronas-led consortium is favouring plans to ship LNG inside Asia-bound carriers from a proposed deep-water dock on Agnew Bank.
Pacific NorthWest LNG still prefers to construct a suspension bridge and trestle-supported pier to connect Lelu Island with the planned deep-water marine terminal and dock on Agnew Bank, according to a source familiar with the project.
Relocating the dock facilities would trigger a fresh review from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, meaning new delays for the already-stalled project. But the cost of the Ridley Island option is lower than the estimated $1-billion price for the bridge and pier.
It would be difficult for Pacific NorthWest LNG to relocate its dock facilities because Royal Dutch Shell PLC holds the LNG development rights on Ridley Island and Chatham Sound.
Last September, the federal Liberal cabinet approved construction of the northern B.C. project, subject to meeting more than 190 environmental conditions.