Docks talks bring no relief for White Rock: mayor
White Rock's mayor is crafting a strongly worded letter to Port Metro Vancouver and Fraser Surrey Docks regarding plans to build a coal-transfer facility in Surrey, after garnering unanimous support from his council colleagues for the move.
He doesn't, however, have much faith it will make a difference.
"We have virtually no control over this, whatsoever. We can only make a noise," Wayne Baldwin said.
"There's no question this will have some impact on this community. Hopefully, that can be minimized."
Fraser Surrey Docks has applied to build a terminal that would bring in thermal coal from Wyoming via the BNSF railway that runs through White Rock, South Surrey and Delta.
Along with a proposal to expand Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver, it is to be decided by Port Metro Vancouver managers, with no formal public meetings or approvals by other agencies.
In a motion presented during Monday night's council meeting, Baldwin asked for council authorization to express concerns including "the total lack of public consultation to get to the point where the city has to get its notice from the newspapers."
Other concerns he plans to highlight are the impact of coal dust on the environment and local residences; the impact of the additional noise on the community and along the waterfront; and "the apparent lack of any kind of an environmental assessment by any level of senior government."
Baldwin told council that while he and city manager Dan Bottrill met with Fraser Surrey Docks officials prior to Monday's meeting, the discussion revealed "nothing that would relieve the necessity to write this letter."
Baldwin told Peace Arch News Tuesday that the officials provided some clarification on the proposal, including that they "don't have much influence" on how coal gets to them.
He said he was told transport companies are asked to use surfactants and level the coal, to minimize the amount of dust that gets blown off en route. The topic of doing air-quality testing was also raised, Baldwin said.
He reiterated his surprise at the lack of consultation with White Rock.
"I fully expected that they would initiate some discussions," Baldwin said. "We are kind of the gateway for it. Everything that comes in through the states comes through us and it starts to have a cumulative effect."
The officials were invited to speak to the city's environment committee and may be asked to appear as a delegation before council, Baldwin said.
In discussing Baldwin's motion Monday, Coun. Louise Hutchinson suggested his letter note concerns with freight trains routinely exceeding the waterfront's 30 km/h speed limit – a point Baldwin said was good, but could "fog up the issue."
The issue of asking to have the trains diverted off the waterfront in the name of safety was also raised, but Baldwin cautioned against going that route, as it could put public access to the waterfront at risk.
"If we push it too far, we may find our promenade down somewhere on Marine Drive," he said.
Couns. Larry Robinson and Al Campbell agreed, with Robinson noting that White Rock is one of few communities that has a promenade "six feet from the centre line of an operating rail line."
"We are in a position where we want to do so much work south of Marine Drive," he said. "We have to be careful what the issue is. The issue is, are the coal trains a threat to our environment and our health."
Robinson encouraged putting pressure on local Members of Parliament and other officials – and encouraging other municipalities to do the same – to have studies done on the impacts of coal dust. While those studies exist south of the border, they have not been done in Canada, he said.
Copies of Baldwin's letter are to be sent to Metro Vancouver, City of Surrey, District of Delta, Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg, Transport Canada, BNSF and South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale MP Russ Hiebert.
Baldwin told PAN the more municipalities speak out, the more likely it is that the concerns will be noted.