A councillor in Squamish, B.C., wants a referendum on a proposed liquefied natural gas venture, saying residents need to take a harder look at whether they should welcome such developments.
Patricia Heintzman, who has served as a municipal councillor since 2005, wants the District of Squamish to place a question on the Woodfibre LNG project on the ballot in the Nov. 15 civic election.
"This type of massive knight-in-shining-armour development isn't necessarily the economic driver that you think it is," she said in an interview.
"It's very hard for politicians to say no to these things and the tax revenue."
The mounting opposition to LNG in Squamish among environmentalists and some civic leaders such as Ms. Heintzman contrasts sharply with the lofty goals of B.C. Premier Christy Clark's government for the industry to propel the province to economic riches. So far, LNG proposals have encountered relatively little controversy in communities, especially compared with widespread B.C. grassroots opposition to Enbridge Inc.'s plans for its Northern Gateway oil pipeline project.
But Ms. Heintzman wants a referendum to show the province and the District of Squamish whether people who live in the area actually want the development. She will raise the topic of holding a non-binding vote when council meets on Aug. 19.
She said more than 100 Squamish residents have expressed concerns to her about allowing LNG exports from the industrial site where Western Forest Products Inc. once operated a pulp mill.
The pulp mill closed in 2006, but Squamish's efforts to increase Howe Sound's profile as a place for tourism and recreation are threatened by plans to export LNG by tankers to Asia, Ms. Heintzman said.
Woodfibre LNG, privately owned by Singapore-based RGE Pte. Ltd., emphasizes that the property is already connected to B.C. Hydro's grid, and having that electricity will help produce LNG efficiently without more-polluting forms of power generation.
Byng Giraud, Woodfibre LNG's vice-president of corporate affairs, said the project would create about 500 construction jobs, and have an estimated 100 full-time employees.
He said he does not object to a referendum, but opposes having one in November because Woodfibre LNG would not have enough time to present its information properly to residents and file regulatory papers with the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office that would make more details public.
"Let's provide people with more information before we rush everybody into making a decision," Mr. Giraud said. "We need all the facts on the table, and both sides with different positions should have factual information and not simply conjecture."
The National Energy Board approved Woodfibre LNG's export licence application last December. An environmental assessment is under way on the project, which would have an export terminal seven kilometres southwest of Squamish.
If RGE makes a final investment decision in 2015 to proceed, then the goal is to be in operation by March, 2017.
"If people want to gauge public opinion, we're not against that, but the November timing is a challenge for us," Mr. Giraud said.
Chris Lewis, a councillor with the Squamish First Nation, said the aboriginal group is reviewing Woodfibre LNG and has not decided whether to support it. "The Squamish Nation is a government and we have processes to engage with our citizens. We respect other levels of governments and their processes to engage with their citizens," he said.
Ms. Heintzman will need at least three other members of the seven-person District of Squamish council to support her if the referendum is to go ahead. One councillor, Doug Race, said he opposes having a municipal vote on Woodfibre LNG because local politicians should show leadership and make decisions for the greater good of the community.
Squamish Mayor Rob Kirkham said he will listen to the pros and cons of holding a November referendum, and also consider options such as town hall meetings to gather residents' input.
Auli Parviainen, a member of the anti-LNG group named My Sea to Sky, said a grassroots movement is gaining momentum to oppose Woodfibre LNG. "We certainly feel very strongly that Woodfibre LNG needs a social licence and that licence can only be granted by the community," she said.
No matter whether the referendum appears on the Nov. 15 civic ballot, the broader issue of LNG exports will become a local election issue, said Ms. Parviainen, who lost to Mr. Kirkham in a close mayoral race in 2011.