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Controversial worker ‘floatel’ drops anchor for LNG project near Squamish

Click to play video: 'Controversial ‘floatel’ settles in on Squamish coast despite lack of permits'
Controversial ‘floatel’ settles in on Squamish coast despite lack of permits
The controversial 'floatel', meant to house hundreds of Woodfibre LNG workers, has made its way to its new home near Squamish. But as Aaron McArthur reports, some are questioning why the ship should be allowed to skirt municipal permitting process – Jun 21, 2024

A cruise ship intended to house workers on a liquified natural gas plant (LNG) near Squamish, B.C., has finally arrived at its destination, following months of controversy.

The MV Isabelle X, a Croatian-built former cruise ship that underwent a $100 million renovation to serve as a “floatel” for workers sailed from Nanaimo to Howe Sound on Friday.

Click to play video: 'Confusion over controversial floatel near Squamish'
Confusion over controversial floatel near Squamish

The facility has been the subject of a political and jurisdictional dispute since late April. That’s when the District of Squamish council voted to deny Woodfibre LNG a permit, citing concerns about women’s safety, increased traffic, waste management and natural hazards.

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But earlier this week, the province’s Envrionmental Assessment Office (EAO) ordered Woodfibre to have its workforce — more than 300 people currently residing in a camp in Port Mellon and in hotels around the region — aboard by Friday.

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The vessel was the worker accommodation solution mandated by both the province and the Squamish nation following four years of consultations.

“We are particularly proud to see the floatel berthed at site on National Indigenous Peoples Day, and to have the extensive work of our Gender Safety Advisory Committee able to be implemented through our first of its kind Gender and Cultural Safety Management Plan,” Woodfibre president Christine Kennedy said in a statement.

“The floatel represents our commitment to advancing lasting economic benefits through the Woodfibre LNG project.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. orders LNG workers onto ‘floatel’ near Squamish'
B.C. orders LNG workers onto ‘floatel’ near Squamish

Both the province and the company have said the EAO’s order supersedes Squamish’s local authority on the matter, and Woodfibre has withdrawn from the permitting process.

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“That leaves us in an awkward space and we will have to figure out a path through that,” Squamish Mayor Armand Hurford told Global News on Friday.

Hurford maintains that despite the province’s order Woodfibre remains out of compliance with the municipality’s own regulations.

“The municipality is also a regulator and those bodies haven’t regulated things that are our responsibility, because they are our responsibility,” he said.

“We are talking simple things, we are talking public safety, we are talking is this an appropriate place for humans to live? Is there a risk? What happens for access, traffic?”

Click to play video: 'LNG company shows off ‘floatel’ after Squamish rejection'
LNG company shows off ‘floatel’ after Squamish rejection

With the vessel now in place, the district says it is exploring several options to deal with Woodfibre, and has not ruled out legal action.

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In the meantime, workers will be settling into their new accommodations as work ramps up on the project.

Woodfibre says workers will be transported to and from the floatel by boat from Vancouver, and won’t have access to Squamish during their work shifts.

Woodfibre LNG is licensed to export about 2.1 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas a year for the next 40 years from a former pulp mill about seven kilometres south of Squamish.

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