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Malahat First Nation's new leadership mulls LNG plant

It is still unclear what a new Malahat First Nation chief and council will mean for a contentious floating liquefied natural gas plant proposed for its land on Saanich Inlet.
Caroline Harry is the first woman to be elected chief of the Malahat First Nation.

It is still unclear what a new Malahat First Nation chief and council will mean for a contentious floating liquefied natural gas plant proposed for its land on Saanich Inlet.

A few weeks after electing Caroline Harry as chief, the First Nation isn’t saying much about any new direction or concern it has about the project that was undertaken in partnership with Steelhead LNG by the previous leadership.

Malahat chief executive officer Lawrence Lewis said the new chief and council are being briefed.

“At this point, it’s status quo, nothing has changed,” he said. “Having said that, the new leadership has clearly said that they want to put their stamp on what our activities look and feel like.”

Shortly after being elected, Harry told the Times Colonist she had expressed concerns over the process that saw the Malahat support the LNG facility and that she would be reviewing it.

Steelhead has proposed a floating facility capable of producing six million tonnes of liquefied natural gas annually on the former Bamberton development site on Saanich Inlet.

Lewis said the Malahat spent time last week working with Steelhead on an aboriginal engagement strategy that reflects the new leadership’s values.

“It will ensure this leadership’s priorities, in terms of how it wants to see its business enterprises progress and advance, are clearly reflective of [their values],” he said.

If the nation isn’t saying much about possible changes to the deal with Steelhead, the company is saying even less.

“We have met with the chief and council and we will continue to meet with them,” said Steelhead chief executive Nigel Kuzemko.

Kuzemko said all facets of the project, from design work of the plant and pipeline through to community engagement, are “on track.”

Steelhead has already started what it calls LNG 101 sessions in the Mill Bay area for residents who want to learn more about the project and its risks.

Kuzemko said they planned eight small-group seminars in November.

“What we are trying to do is personalize it as much as possible,” he said, noting the small groups allow for more back and forth to deal with varying levels of understanding about LNG. “We will continue to do them as long as people are interested.”

The Malahat’s decision to support the project had irked some neighbouring First Nations, and it had started to reach out to deal with them.

Lewis said the brakes were put on that process before the Malahat election, so the new leadership could be involved.

The proposed project has also raised concerns on either side of Saanich Inlet, drawing a full house to an information session Friday night on the Saanich Peninsula.

Eoin Finn, a retired partner with KPMG who holds a PhD in physical chemistry, spoke against the proposed Malahat project in particular and British Columbia’s LNG industry in general during a talk put on by the Saanich Inlet Network.

“I’ve spent the last 25 years of my life doing business cases, and this is one of the sickest business cases I have seen,” Finn said, adding there are also environmental and safety issues.

Finn believes the province has been so keen to cash in on LNG that there has been little oversight of the industry in its infancy.

“It has no regulation governing what is a very dangerous industry,” he said.

“It doesn’t look like we’ll be rich and famous and it comes with some severe consequences, not the least of which are environmental, safety and financial.”

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