Train comments fail to calm White Rock

Port Metro Vancouver
Port Metro Vancouver's vice-president of operations Peter Xotta – with the director of environment Darrell Desjardin – fields questions on the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal following a presentation to White Rock council Monday.
— image credit: Tracy Holmes

The suggestion that a new direct-transfer coal facility in Surrey would not increase train traffic was met with incredulity by White Rock council members Monday.

The statement came from Port Metro Vancouver’s director of environment, Darrell Desjardin, during a presentation on the port and the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal.

“Overall, from 2008, you would not see an increase in rail traffic,” Desjardin said, explaining the increase would simply return volumes to those seen six years ago.

Coun. Helen Fathers and Mayor Wayne Baldwin both disputed the assertion.

“I’m not sure how you can say there won’t be an increase in train traffic,” Fathers said.

“We’ve already seen an increase since 2008,” Baldwin said. “Not a minor one, a major one.”

The $15-million direct-transfer facility eyed for 11060 Elevator Rd. has been the subject of considerable angst since it was announced in September 2012. Port officials are reviewing the application and could make a decision on the project at any time.

If approved, the facility would handle two million metric tonnes of coal in its first year of operation, increasing to four million tonnes annually within five years.

Last month, White Rock’s director of engineering, Greg St. Louis, said that translates to a potential increase in the number of trains travelling through White Rock to 320 in year one and 640 after that.

Regarding Desjardin’s no-increase statement, PMV’s vice-president of planning and operations Peter Xotta clarified it referred specifically to traffic coming to Fraser Surrey Docks: “The volume would certainly not surpass what they’ve experienced at this facility in the past.”

Baldwin said his community’s concern is with what’s coming through White Rock.

“That’s where we need to see some environmental assessment,” he said.

A port-ordered environmental impact assessment (EIA), released in November, has been criticized by health officials as failing to meet “even the most basic requirements of a health-impact assessment.”

St. Louis has said it “did not provide any useful information on the environmental impacts of transporting coal through the City of White Rock.”

Xotta said Monday that Fraser Surrey Docks has been “given some direction” as a result of discussions with health authorities.

“I can assure you if there are shortcomings… we will be asking them to do additional work,” he said.

Council later voted to support city staff participation on an independent inter-agency committee focused on reviewing the direct-transfer facility. The resolution was in response to an invitation by Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, whose council voted last month to initiate and co-ordinate the committee following concerns with the EIA findings.

"It is essential that appropriate representatives are at the table," Jackson writes in a letter received by White Rock officials Jan. 3. "It is our hope that the contribution of expertise from your organization… and the collaborative work of its members will produce meaningful, practical recommendations towards further assessment and understanding of the impacts of transportation and handling of coal in our communities."

Jackson's letter adds it is evident "that additional work is required to address issues and answer outstanding questions, especially as they relate to potential public health impacts associated with the proposal."

Delta is also seeking participation by the health and environment ministries of both the provincial and federal governments, as well as Metro Vancouver and the cities of Surrey and New Westminster.



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