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In order to pass environmental review, the Pacific NorthWest LNG joint venture in northwestern B.C. has proposed building a 1.6-kilometre long bridge.

A liquefied natural gas project led by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas will find ways to address environmental and aboriginal concerns about potential harm to salmon habitat, says the venture's new president.

Over the past six months, Pacific NorthWest LNG has been scrambling to find ways to lessen the project's ecological impact, culminating in a plan to build a 1.6-kilometre suspension bridge. The bridge plan, unveiled last month, is designed to vastly minimize dredging and avoid damaging the sensitive eelgrass beds in Flora Bank. The bridge's environmental footprint would be much less than a previous plan, in which a jetty design would have disturbed fish habitat, according to regulatory filings.

"We're really pushing forward with this project on Lelu Island. And the suspension bridge, we think, is a viable alternative to deal with the concerns around Flora Bank," said Michael Culbert, who replaced Greg Kist as Pacific NorthWest LNG president two weeks ago.

Mr. Culbert made the comment in Vancouver on Thursday, after participating in a signing ceremony to confirm the Nisga'a Nation's support for a benefits agreement between the aboriginal group and TransCanada Corp.'s proposed Prince Rupert Gas Transmission project. TransCanada's pipeline would transport natural gas from northeastern British Columbia to Pacific NorthWest LNG's planned export terminal on Lelu Island.

But a group of four First Nations is opposed to Pacific NorthWest LNG's selection of Lelu Island as the site for an $11-billion terminal near Prince Rupert. The Wet'suwet'en, Gitanyow, Lake Babine and Gitxsan note that the suspension bridge would connect with a 1.1-kilometre jetty leading to the berth for LNG carriers. The combined length of the bridge and jetty would be 2.7 kilometres, or 300 metres longer than previously envisaged.

The aboriginals fighting Pacific NorthWest LNG say their views have been largely ignored because the project proponents think those First Nations are too far from the estuary of the Skeena River near Lelu Island.

Mr. Culbert said the Petronas-led joint venture has done a thorough job in consulting First Nations who will be most affected by the energy project, but company officials are willing to listen to other aboriginals. "When we look at the consultation process that we've undertaken, and particularly in the context of Lelu Island, we're in a situation where it's been identified through rights and titles that there are five main bands in that particular area. So we've spent a great deal of effort consulting with them over the past couple of years and those efforts are ongoing," he said.

Two B.C. cabinet ministers are slated to meet in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday with Mr. Culbert and Shamsul Azhar Abbas, the chief executive officer of Petronas. The topics to be discussed by Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman and Finance Minister Mike de Jong will include the print fine in the B.C. government's proposed LNG tax regime unveiled last month.

"Like any new legislation, there's a bit of interpretation as to what those words say," Mr. Culbert said.

Pacific NorthWest LNG is viewed by industry analysts as the B.C. project with the best chance to forge ahead first with a final investment decision. There have been 18 B.C. LNG proposals announced so far.

"We're still negotiating with the engineering contractors at this point in time. We've got many boxes to check off to have the full final investment decision package ready," Mr. Culbert said. "We're targeting to make a decision by the middle of December."

Environmental regulators are reviewing plans by Pacific NorthWest LNG and others, including the Shell-led LNG Canada project. A 45-day period for regulators to receive public comments begins Friday for LNG Canada, which wants to build an export terminal in Kitimat.

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