Huu-ay-aht look to LNG to help ‘close the gap’

Huu-ay-aht First Nations, a modern treaty Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island, really understand sustainable and profitable business.

Forestry and fisheries are among key foundations of the strategic plan for the self-governing nation of close to 750 people. Tourism, mining, renewable power, and port development are further possibilities.

For the next step now, there’s an ambitious LNG development, a project named Kwispaa LNG, that Huu-ay-aht First Nations is developing through a unique “co-management relationship” with Vancouver-based energy company Steelhead LNG.

Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. says Kwispaa LNG offers Huu-ay-aht First Nations “an incredible opportunity.”

“It provides an opportunity for a benefits agreement, which we already have negotiated. It provides a significant amount of accommodation of Huu-ay-aht interests, which we have already negotiated.

“For example, we are already doing fisheries renewal enhancement projects, through the Steelhead LNG project. We intend to have a response centre for any marine events, and we accommodate our interests by being part of the project.

“We have a co-management approach to this project. For example, we have an oversight board that consists of three Huu-ay-aht (representatives) and three from Steelhead LNG; and that’s exactly what it is, an oversight board that oversees the over-all project. And myself, I sit on the actual corporate board (of Steelhead LNG).

“And then we also were able to negotiate employment opportunities in the project, contract opportunities also.’

It is all much needed, says Chief Robert.

“The economic picture goes like this: In order for Huu-ay-aht First Nations to close the existing economic and social gap, we estimate that we would need — at the very least — $250 million over the next 10 years.

“And I say to myself, ‘Where am I going to get $250 million?’ I know the feds aren’t going to say, ‘Well, Huu-ay-aht, here’s $250 million; go do what you want.’ And also I know the province isn’t going to come to the Nation and say, ‘Here. Huu-ay-aht, here’s the money you need.’ I’m sure as I’m sitting here that’s not going to happen.

“We have to find some way to do this. And this (LNG) is one of the ways that provides economic opportunity and will help us close that economic and social gap.”

The Kwispaa LNG facility will include a combination of “at-shore” infrastructure— ship-like floating liquefaction units with integrated LNG storage that are moored to jetties in the water to reduce environmental impact—and onshore components.

In recent progress, Steelhead LNG has shortlisted four contractors who will compete to carryout the FEED (front-end engineering and design) work on the facility. Steelhead LNG is also looking to work with Hyundai Heavy Industries to  supply two hulls for the at-shore units.

There’s more to come, including a 1,000-km pipeline to bring in Canadian natural gas from northeast BC and northwest Alberta to Kwispaa LNG. Throughout the engagement process, Huu-ay-aht is taking a traditional approach that respects its culture and ancestors.

How did Steelhead approach Huu-ay-aht, and what then?

“I would say from the Huu-ay-aht perspective it was a very good approach,” says Chief Robert.

“(Steelhead LNG) approached us on an up-front basis. They didn’t come to us and say, ‘Oh, here’s our plan.’ They didn’t throw it on our desk and say, ‘Now we expect a comment from you.’ It was a different approach.

“They said ‘Huu-ay-aht, we’d like to do an LNG project on your lands.’ And the (Huu-ay-aht) government at the time said, ‘Yes, we’ll consider it, and we’ll go get a vote from our citizens.’

“And the vote from our citizens, the first vote, was to seek approval to explore an LNG operation on our lands. And then we had a second vote, a second referendum, that was agreeing that that particular LNG facility can be on our lands. The first vote passed with about a 65% majority, and the second one passed with a 70%-plus majority.

“We had another vote, and that was on disposition of the land for the project, at our peoples’ assembly last November. And they voted to dispose the lands for an LNG facility. . . . and it passed unanimously.”

The Huu-ay-aht also decided to join the First Nations BC LNG Alliance. Karen Ogen-Toews, CEO of the Alliance: “We’re delighted to have Chief Robert and the Huu-ay-aht Nations as part of our Alliance. They have worked with Steelhead LNG to set up a unique co-management agreement with Steelhead on the Kwispaa project. That could be a model for other First Nations to look at.”

The Huu-ay-aht are an amalgamation of several small nations. The home community is the village of Anacla, close to Bamfield.

Huu-ay-aht First Nations is a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and one of the five First Nations signatories to the Maa-nulth Final Agreement, the first modern-day treaty to be concluded on Vancouver Island.  The treaty came into effect on April 1, 2011.

As a result of the Treaty, Huu-ay-aht First Nations have full ownership and jurisdiction over more than 8,200 hectares of land within their territories and continue to have rights throughout its Ha-houlthee (traditional territories).