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Opponents criticize coal stockpile approval

Route that coal barges would take down the Fraser River and northwest to Texada Island if the Fraser Surrey Docks coal terminal is approved. - File
Route that coal barges would take down the Fraser River and northwest to Texada Island if the Fraser Surrey Docks coal terminal is approved.
— image credit: File

Environmental groups opposing a new coal export terminal at Fraser Surrey Docks are accusing the province of quietly paving the way for the project by allowing much more coal storage on Texada Island.

Coal from the U.S. would be hauled by rail through White Rock, South Surrey and Delta to Fraser Surrey Docks and then be barged to Texada, where it would be reloaded to ocean-going ships.

An amended mines permit enabling coal storage capacity to double to 800,000 tonnes was issued to Lafarge Canada's Texada Quarrying operation in March.

It already handles coal from the Quinsam coal mine on Vancouver Island, but that volume would jump ten-fold if the proposed Surrey coal export terminal is approved and begins shipping four million tonnes per year.

Critics say concerned residents only learned of the amendment after it was disclosed in an April 10 email from B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office.

"It seemed to be quietly issued without anyone knowing," said Laura Benson, a coal campaigner with the Dogwood Initiative.

Mines ministry spokesman Matt Gordon said all mines permitting decisions are "completely independent of any political influence." He said the application was the subject of a public meeting last August and interested parties were notified when the permit was amended.

Opponents say they're getting legal advice on whether the provincial approval of the amended mining permit is sufficient or if – as they believe – the Texada operation should be forced to obtain an environmental permit.

Area residents say coal from the existing operation has repeatedly ended up on the beach at Texada despite the permit banning releases into the water or foreshore. They say they've brought evidence to the province but have been ignored.

Environment Minister Mary Polak on April 8 told the Legislature there is no waste discharge from the coal handling at Texada and therefore no jurisdiction for the environment ministry.

She said the Texada operation will be regulated by the mining permit and the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal is entirely under federal jurisdiction.

Port Metro Vancouver has not indicated when it will make a final decision on the Fraser Surrey Docks project.

The proposed $15-million terminal was again delayed in February when the port authority ordered Fraser Surrey Docks to gather more information on potential human health impacts to fill in gaps in its flawed environmental assessment.

Benson said the port's refusal to conduct a comprehensive health impact assessment – as requested by medical health officers – means the province should step in and order one under the authority of either the health or environment ministries.

Opponents of the project include local residents concerned about coal dust as well as climate change activists who aim to block the export of U.S. coal through B.C.

Alan Fryer, spokesman for the Coal Alliance, said the many twists and turns of the approval process is improving the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal.

He said revisions have eliminated an originally planned coal stockpile in Surrey that was a concern to New Westminster residents.

Fryer also noted BNSF Rail has agreed to spray trains to suppress coal dust just before they cross the border into B.C.

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