Hundreds face security search to talk LNG in Sidney

They came early, they came in the hundreds and they came to leave no doubt that the Saanich Peninsula wants no part of a proposed liquefied natural gas plant on Saanich Inlet.

But very few of them got to say that out loud.

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Nearly 600 people braved security — on the lookout for pocket knives and multi-tools, among other “weapons” — and packed the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney on Tuesday night for a town hall meeting on LNG and the proposed floating LNG plant on Saanich Inlet.

They got a broad spectrum of opinion from a panel that included representatives from Steelhead LNG, which has proposed the facility, First Nations on both sides of the issue, the scientific community and the provincial government’s LNG advocate, Gordon Wilson.

But they didn’t get the chance to air their concerns.

“I think it’s B.S. that we all come here and we don’t get to speak. I think if there’s really hot, enraged feelings, there’s nothing wrong with humans putting it out there a little bit,” said North Saanich resident Sylvia Olsen.

“It doesn’t have to be squashed so we are all so incredibly polite, because, in fact, I am not feeling very polite.

“I was completely unimpressed and frustrated with [Steelhead’s] diversions and that no one here is going to hold them to account. I would like some acknowledgment that we are actually in a panic.”

The three-hour meeting did include a question-and-answer segment, but organizers had questions submitted in writing to be read out by a moderator.

Most of the questions were aimed at Steelhead and dealt with things like greenhouse gas emissions, noise, flaring, seismic issues and environmental impact, but the company was unable to offer specifics and continually noted that it is early in the process and still exploring design options.

The lack of a free back and forth was itself an issue.

“I found it useful, but I didn’t like it,” said Tex McLeod of North Saanich. “I want to talk as much as I want to hear, but there was no forum for that.”

McLeod said even the answers that were given by Steelhead’s project director Alex Brigden were frustrating.

“You understand why he does it, you don’t want to give anything away, but they are such pat answers,” he said.

Steelhead’s proposal is for a floating facility, based at the former Bamberton lands, capable of producing nearly eight million tonnes of LNG a year. The facility is to be fuelled by a 128-kilometre natural gas pipeline.

The opposition to it was clear throughout the evening.

When Brigden’s presentation ran over the flexible eight-minute time limit, the crowd reminded him he was due to sit down, then started applauding, apparently hoping he would stop before he had finished.

Wilson, the province’s LNG advocate, was also heckled. While he tried to lay out the economic and First Nations case for liquefied natural gas, the crowd harangued him, telling him to “leave it in the ground.”

Tsartlip Chief Don Tom, who reiterated the position of all the WSANEC First Nations — Tsartlip, Tsawout, Tseycum and Pauquachin — that they would never support the project, was loudly supported. “We will not subject our community or your community to the risks posed by the project,” Tom said to applause.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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