News / Vancouver

Skeena River missing in B.C. natural gas project description

Activists are calling foul after B.C.'s second longest river, the Skeena, was left off a project description document (PDF) for a proposed liquid natural gas plant near Prince Rupert.

The map of the Pacific NorthWest LNG project was posted online by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) in February with an invitation to the public to register in consultations. It was followed by a notice in June encouraging aboriginal and other groups to apply for funding to participate in environmental hearings.

The deadlines for both had passed by the time Prince Rupert's Northern View newspaper notified the company of its mistake in late July.

Acting on behalf of fish conservation group the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation, West Coast Environmental Law wrote to the CEAA last week asking for those deadlines to be extended in light of the error. Anna Johnston, who is staff counsel with the firm, said a correct map might have yielded a different public response.

"Members of the public were invited to comment on whether a federal environmental assessment should occur of this project, so without knowing that the Skeena River was adjacent to the project site, they might not have felt concerned about whether or not an environmental assessment should occur," she told Metro.

"It's concerning that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency wouldn't verify the information that it's drawing from these companies and submitting as part of their registry information."

A revised version of the map that includes the Skeena, which is a spawning ground for struggling sockeye salmon, was posted on the CEAA's website in early August after the Northern View ran a story about it.

Both maps were produced by Stantec and commissioned by Progress Energy, a Canadian subsidiary of Petronas, the Malaysian energy giant behind the proposed LNG export terminal. Progress Energy spokesman Spencer Sproule referred questions to Stantec.

Stantec senior principle Ward Prystay said the error came about as a result of combining federal and provincial datasets that were incompatible.

"The provincial data sets and the federal data sets in this specific area didn't compliment each other," he said, explaining that after using layers that show First Nations communities, provincial parks, roads, railways and tidal lines, the Skeena somehow disappeared.

"... Where there was missing data they actually inserted a blue background on it to be able to get the water to show up looking like blue on the [revised] map."

CEAA spokeswoman Karen Fish said via email the agency is currently reviewing the letter and will be responding to West Coast Environmental Law.

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