Huu-ay-aht citizen Frederick Cook (right) casts his ballot under the supervision of Electoral Commissioner Kit Spence (left) and poll clerk Chantelle Corey. [Shayne Morrow photo]
Huu-ay-aht First Nation citizens have voted 70 per cent in favor of taking the next step towards building a liquefied natural gas facility in their traditional territory on Sarita Bay.
The vote took place on March 25 at polling stations at the Best Western Barclay Hotel and at the House of Huu-ay-aht in Anacla. Many citizens took the opportunity to cast their ballot by mail, which made for a lengthier ballot-counting process than expected.
“This is an exciting day for Huu-ay-aht,” said Chief Councillor Robert Dennis in a statement issued late Saturday evening. “This vote shows that our community is united and ready to sit at the table with Steelhead LNG as partners as this project moves forward.”
Speaking to Ha-Shilth-Sa on Saturday morning, Dennis explained what members were actually voting on.
“Back in 2014, the people of Huu-ay-aht approved an initiative to explore the LNG opportunity,” Dennis said. “So in the two years since, we have entered into discussions with Steelhead LNG. What we are asking now is, ‘Do you support an LNG project at Sarita?’”
As of March 25, 2017, there was no concrete project on the drawing board, he explained. There is a package of conditions that any project proposal would have to fulfill, but again, that is very much a moving target.
“What we can do is establish a process to ensure the conditions are being met,” he said. “We now have an accommodation agreement with Steelhead.”
An Oversight Board has been created to address concerns as they arise, Dennis said. And they will arise, Dennis added.
“There will no doubt be environmental concerns; there will be cultural heritage issues that will arise; there will be fisheries issues that arise. So the Oversight Board will be in position to address these issues when they do arise.”
Huu-ay-aht has developed a co-management process with Steelhead, that is unique in B.C., Dennis noted. In all of the various LNG project proposals involving energy industry developers and B.C. First Nations, Huu-ay-aht would be the only Nation in an actual management role. The other Nations would be limited to participation on committees.
“What we’re saying is, we want a process where the people’s concerns can be addressed as they arise. We’re working for the people now, and this is how the people want to see the project move forward.”
With Saturday’s approval, Steelhead LNG has the ability to move forward in exploring the many elements in putting a pipeline project together, beginning with locating a source of natural gas, then establishing a pipeline route, which requires acquisition of property, environmental approvals and so on.
“Steelhead has quite a way to go yet. They must secure other investors,” he said. “I know that a lot of the pipeline component is ‘work down the road.’”
Above all, the goal is to create a viable project, Dennis explained. That means factors such as the world LNG market will play a major factor in whether an LNG shipping terminal will be built at Sarita Bay.
“There is no sense putting a project there if it isn’t viable.”
All told, it would be five to 10 years before any gas flows at Sarita Bay, Dennis noted.
Dennis said Steelhead has committed to take into consideration the interests of the many other First Nations whose traditional territories the LNG project will impact. That is something Huu-ay-aht has emphasized, he said.
“The First Nations interests have to be dealt with, and I am fully confident that Steelhead will be diligent in their consultations.”
For Huu-ay-aht citizens like Sherri Cook, that accountability to First Nations is critical. When Ha-Shilth-Sa visited the polling station at the Barclay on Saturday morning, Cook watched as her son Frederick cast his ballot.
“He brought me, actually. I was heading out the door and he said, ‘Mom, can you take me out to vote?’”
Cook said she actually planned to vote later in the day. She would bring a friend to the polling station in the evening, she explained.
Cook said she has stayed engaged in the project proposal since the beginning.
“I have asked a lot of questions and gotten all the information that I want to make an educated vote today,” she said.
Cook said she has weighed the various considerations in the project, such as environment versus economic development.
“I have also weighed the other [LNG] projects being proposed across the province,” she said. “This one is a little different. They are consulting the Nation first, instead of getting approval from government and then consulting the Nation, which is what they’re doing in other areas. It’s been good to have input on all the factors that we all find important.
“It’s a sensitive area. We have a cemetery close by, it is sensitive to wildlife, and there is the seafood that everyone in the Valley relies on. Because the sockeye and the many of the other species go through there. So we’ve had lots of time and we’ve had lots of opportunity to ask questions, and give them our input, and in some cases, give them a piece of our minds.”
Kit Spence acted as Election Commissioner. Spence, who has previously conducted elections for Uchucklesaht, Ucluelet and Ditidaht First Nations, said he had mailed out 489 ballots to all eligible Huu-ay-aht voters with mailing addresses in Canada and the U.S.
“Citizens can vote here or in Anacla, or they can vote by mail,” Spence said.
Spence added that the sealed ballots could also be delivered by hand, but all mail ballots had to be received by noon on voting day. Some Huu-ay-aht councillors collected sealed ballots from constituents, he said. At Anacla, Nigel Atkin supervised the voting, he added.
When Ha-Shilth-sa dropped back to the Barclay polling station at the close of polls (8 p.m.), Spence said the number of mail-in ballots meant the counting process was going to take much longer than anticipated. Each vote had to be opened and witnessed, then checked against the voter’s list to make sure the citizen had not later decided to vote in person.
“The in-person ballot trumps the mail-in ballot,” he explained. At 10:27 p.m., Ha-Shilth-sa was notified that the process was just wrapping up.