Malahat band makes deal with Steelhead LNG

The Malahat First Nation has entered into a partnership to develop a liquefied natural gas facility at Bamberton.

The Malahat First Nation and Vancouver-based Steelhead LNG have entered into a partnership to develop a liquefied natural gas facility — to be known as Malahat LNG — at the former Bamberton site south of Mill Bay.

Representatives of the Malahat and Steelhead made the announcement on Thursday that they had entered into a mutual benefits agreement and a long-term lease.

“We are honoured to be here today to celebrate our agreements with the Malahat Nation,” Steelhead CEO Nigel Kuzemko said. “As a B.C.-based LNG development company, we are committed to early engagement with First Nations and getting things right. That is why our first step over the past 13 months was to develop a close working relationship with the Malahat Nation based on trust and respect.”

The proposed facility would have an expected capacity of up to six-million tonnes per year, and would include floating liquefaction facilities moored to the shoreline and minor supporting land-based infrastructure. Between construction, operation and decommissioning, it could provide up to 30 years of revenue generation for local, provincial and federal governments, as well as up to 200 long-term positions, as well as training and employment opportunities for members of the Malahat First Nation and other Island residents.

“As a Nation committed to improving the quality of life for our people, we are excited about this opportunity with Steelhead LNG,” acting Malahat Chief Tommy Harry said.

“In 2015, our Nation developed a Comprehensive Development Plan that reflects our people’s needs and their vision of how we want to develop our Nation. We recognized that to achieve that vision, we needed to look beyond our Nation to develop new business relationships and economic opportunities.

“Since then, we have made significant progress, and this proposed LNG project with Steelhead represents another step forward in that direction. It is also an indication that our Nation is open for business and that we welcome the chance to explore opportunities with those who respect our lands, social and cultural values, and who are prepared to work with us in a truly strategic manner.”

The 525-hectare Bamberton site was purchased by the Malahat First Nation last month, tripling the size of their territory.

This is the second partnership between Steelhead and a Vancouver Island First Nation. In April, the company and the Huu-ay-aht First Nations announced a $30-billion LNG project in the Alberni Inlet. In 2014, Steelhead applied for five licenses to export up to 30 million tonnes of LNG per year over 25 years. Four of the licenses will be allocated to the Huu-ay-aht project, and the remaining one will be allocated to the Malahat facility.

Malahat/Mill Bay CVRD Area Director and former provincial Green Party candidate was eager to learn more about the project.

“It’s a lot to process in such a short time,” he said. “There are certainly many details that need to be worked out. There are an enormous number of questions.”

There is still a lengthy process to go through before the facility becomes a reality.

“The CVRD is still looking at what the implications might be,” Davis pointed out. “But it’s still very early stages, so it’s hard to say exactly what will happen. I’ll absolutely be watching with interest. I’ve already had quite a bit of feedback from local citizens.”

CVRD chair Jon Lefebure was also interested to hear more about the deal, but expressed support for the Malahat’s economic development efforts.

“I think we have to be aware that individual bands are trying to create employment for their people, and we have to be considerate of that when we are thinking and talking about development,” he said. “I’m generally supportive of First Nations’ efforts to create economic development in their communities.”

Lefebure has personal concerns about how lucrative LNG will actually be.

“I’m personally leery about the promises of LNG. I’m suspicious because what I hear is that they;re creating LNG projects right across the world. The idea that we could get a lock on it and get an incredible advantages from it is a dream. It’s a highly competitive business, from Australia to Russia. I think it’s going to drive the price of gas down, and there will be a lot less profit in it than they are saying.”

The Malahat First Nation is currently without a governing body. Chief David Michael Harry resigned from the position last week amid allegations that he had been receiving kickbacks from the operators of a controversial contaminated-soil-dumping operation at Shawnigan Lake. The former chief’s uncle, band councillor Tommy Harry, took over as interim chief, only to resign himself, along with the other two remaining councillors, in order to force a new election on Nov. 2. Elections were originally scheduled to take place in January.

WITH FILES FROM LEXI BAINAS