First Nation Independent Environmental Assessment

The Task:

Enable informed decision making by Squamish Nation for a proposed Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) pipeline, liquefaction and export facility through the heart of Squamish Nation territory.

The Client:

Squamish Nation is comprised of descendants of Central Coast Salish peoples who have occupied and relied upon lands in southwest BC since time immemorial. The Nation’s traditional territory includes areas of present-day Vancouver and North Vancouver, Sunshine Coast, Howe Sound, and Squamish River watershed.

The Challenge:

Industrial projects in Squamish Nation territory since the early 1900s left a negative legacy of environmental degradation and impacts on the Nation’s Aboriginal Rights and culture. New large industrial projects are evaluated through the BC Environmental Assessment Act – a process that Squamish Nation has found to be deficient in recognizing and accommodating impacts to the Nation’s interests. Consequently, the Nation’s leadership and general membership are distrustful of both industry and provincial government when it comes to evaluating new projects. When Woodfibre LNG (in tandem with FortisBC) proposed to construct and operate an LNG pipeline and export facility at the ancestral village site of swiyat (Woodfibre), the Nation sought a solution that would recognize them as an informed decision maker, rather than a consulted party in another level of government’s decision process.

The Solution:   

PGL worked closely with Squamish Nation leadership and legal counsel to develop the “Squamish Process”: an independent environmental review and decision making process that is parallel to, but separate from, the BC Environmental Assessment Act process. We developed a set of core Squamish Nation values against which the project would be evaluated. We facilitated community input to the process through focus group sessions and open house events for members, and via a dedicated email address. We incorporated the input from the community at large, from traditional knowledge experts (elders and land stewards), and from technically trained experts to provide a final report to Squamish Nation’s 16-person Council. We then took Council’s directives as to which impacts were unacceptable, and which may be acceptable given the right combination of mitigation or compensation, and we pursued these directives with the proponent.

The Result:

Squamish Nation issued two Environmental Assessment Certificates (one for the pipeline and one for the export facility), with a suite of environmental conditions specific to Squamish Nation values. Among these conditions were substantial changes to project design: for instance, abandonment of the proposed sea water cooling methodology, relocation of a compressor station outside of downtown Squamish, and elimination of any industrial disturbance within the revered Skwel’wil’em Wildlife Management Area. None of these changes would have been possible within the confines of the BC Environmental Assessment Act, and yet each would have posed significant and unacceptable impacts to Squamish Nation’s interests.

While a First Nation issuing its own environmental certificate is not unique, the Squamish Process resulted in legally binding conditions for the proponent. Squamish Nation has effectively become a regulator for the Woodfibre LNG project, and this is unique. The Squamish Process has generated considerable interest from other First Nations and regulatory agencies as a model for recognizing a First Nation’s governance rights through an environmental assessment.

PGL remains involved with the implementation phase for the Squamish Nation Environmental Certificates, assisting the Nation in overseeing numerous environmental monitoring and remediation commitments of particular interest to the Nation.