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Squamish Nation unhappy Senakw energy system undergoing public hearing

Kitsilano Point residents didn’t get a say on Vancouver city hall’s 120-year deal to service the cluster of residential towers to be built on the Squamish Nation reserve around the Burrard Bridge’s south side.
A rendering of part of the Senakw development | Nch'Kay Development Corp.

Kitsilano Point residents didn’t get a say on Vancouver city hall’s 120-year deal to service the cluster of residential towers to be built on the Squamish Nation reserve around the Burrard Bridge’s south side.

But the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) sent the application for a $26 million district energy system at Senakw to public review because it proposes building under civic infrastructure and connecting to the regional district’s utility.

The decision sparked a rebuke from the chair of the Squamish Nation council, who accused the regulator of ignoring the band’s wishes and demanded an audience with the commission.

"We remain steadfast in our belief that a public consultation and review process on this project is not warranted and represents a serious infringement of our right to self-government, with the potential to set a harmful precedent, and a further affront to the Crown's treatment of our peoples in the past history of this land,” wrote Khelsilem, on Jan. 19. “However, the Nation has decided at this time to not seek a reconsideration of the commission's decision given the need to obtain timely approvals of the energy system to meet our financing commitments.”

The federally approved project to build 11 towers over four phases is a partnership between the Squamish Nation’s Nch’kay Development Corp. and Westbank Projects Corp. Westbank is also the parent of Creative Energy, whose Creative Energy Senakw LP (CESLP) filed the October application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity to heat and cool the seven buildings in the first two phases of the project.

The application included a June letter from Peter Baker, Squamish Nation director of rights and title, that asked Creative Energy senior vice-president Kieran McConnell to not consult the public. Baker wanted McConnell to seek an exemption from the typical process due to the Squamish Nation’s sovereignty and jurisdiction.

Baker’s letter said consultation was also unnecessary, because the utility infrastructure and service area would be contained within the parcel of land officially known as Kitsilano Indian Reserve No. 6.

A BCUC tribunal disagreed, opening the door to interveners and letters of comment from individuals, organizations and groups.

“Given the lack of public consultation prior to this application, the panel considers that there may be additional interests and stakeholders to consider,” said the Nov. 30 decision. “The panel, therefore, finds that an opportunity for affected parties to participate in the hearing is required, and there is a need for additional evidence to determine whether the application can and should be approved as being in the public interest; therefore, additional process is warranted.”

The Residential Consumer Intervener Association registered in early January. Last Friday, the commission announced a schedule for written submissions through May 25.

The CESLP application noted that the civic services agreement required the low-carbon district energy system, which the BCUC describes as an “electrified energy system that provides cooling with electric chillers … and provides heating with captured waste heat from the cooling equipment and reclaimed heat from a Metro Vancouver main sewer line using high-temperature heat pumps.”

CESLP also said in its application that it had the financial capacity to fund the project through shareholders Westbank Holdings Inc., Instar Asset Management Inc. and third-party debt. Nch’kay was reviewing an option to acquire up to 50 per cent ownership of CESLP, but any interest greater than 20 per cent would require BCUC approval.

The Kits Point Residents Association and two of its directors filed Oct. 5 for a judicial review in B.C. Supreme Court. They say they want a judge to quash the Senakw services agreement because the city negotiated and approved it behind closed doors. City of Vancouver says it acted properly under the Indian Self-government Enabling Act and the Vancouver Charter.

In 1913, the province removed Kitsilano reserve inhabitants by barge, after offering the 20 family heads $11,250 each, contrary to the Indian Act. Eighty-seven years later, in 2000, Squamish Nation ceded 60 acres of Kitsilano Point to the federal government in a $92.5 million land claims settlement.

Five B.C. Court of Appeal judges unanimously agreed in 2002 to return 10.5 acres of land to the Squamish Nation that had been expropriated for the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1886 and 1902.

Band members voted in 2019 to partner with developer Westbank to build Senakw after an expert report estimated cash flow of as much as $12.7 billion.