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UPDATE: Opponents react to coal transfer facility approval at Fraser Surrey Docks

Fraser Surrey Docks has been OK
Fraser Surrey Docks has been OK'd for a facility for coal brought in by train from the U.S. and barged down the Fraser River to a shipping terminal at Texada Island.
— image credit: Port Metro Vancouver

Fraser Surrey Docks will soon be shipping coal overseas.

Port Metro Vancouver announced this morning it has approved a proposed coal transfer facility at Fraser Surrey Docks.

It would take at least four million tonnes per year of U.S. coal by train through White Rock and Surrey and send it by barge down the Fraser River to Texada Island for reloading to ocean-going ships.

Environmentalists, residents and other groups opposed to the project had raised concerns about the terminal's potential harm on the  environment and air quality. Climate change activists believe U.S. coal might stay in the ground and not be burnt overseas if new coal terminals aren't built in Metro Vancouver or along the U.S. west coast.

Port Metro Vancouver was aware of the opposition to the facility, but said "all public, municipal, agency, First Nations and other stakeholder concerns and questions" were addressed, adding that "should there exist any risk of adverse impacts of the proposal…those impacts could be mitigated to acceptable levels."

Some opponents were not surprised the project received the go-ahead.

"I knew it was coming," said Paula Williams, co-organizer of the grassroots South Surrey-based network Communities and Coal, which has been sharply critical of the Fraser Surrey Docks expansion project and potential health impacts since being formed last year. "So it's not necessarily a surprise. I'm disappointed, yes, but not surprised."

She said that Golder Associates Ltd., which did a review of the project – and is described by Port Metro Vancouver in its releases as "an independent environmental consultant" – has a business relationship with the Macquarie Group, parent company of Fraser Surrey Docks.

"They have gone into business together in different partnerships to bid on projects, including an airport tunnel in Toronto and a construction contract in Alaska," she said. "I'm not sure of the definition of an independent third party reviewer (that Port Metro Vancouver is using), but it doesn't sit well."

Williams said it appeared from the Port Metro Vancouver website that Golder just spot-checked information, rather than gathering data themselves.

However, Peter Xotta, Vice President of Planning and Operations at Port Metro Vancouver said the decision was not taken lightly.

“Through our comprehensive project review process, stakeholder consultation, as well as third-party validated environmental and health studies, it was determined there are no unacceptable risks and the project could be permitted.”

Port Metro Vancouver says the $15-million project will provide 25 direct and 25 indirect full-time jobs. Approval came after a lengthy review process.

"Over the past two years, a significant amount of work and a number of comprehensive studies have gone into ensuring this project is safe and that concerns raised were addressed,” said Jeff Scott, president and CEO of Fraser Surrey Docks. "We take our obligation to the community very seriously, as we have for over 50 years. We understand our responsibility and will deliver on our commitment to ensure this project is operated safely and responsibly."

Williams said the decision took two years because of public and political pressure for an environmental assessment, not necessarily because a thorough review was completed.

She said her group will now go into a "different stage of battle," calling the situation a "chess game" they're ready for.

"We're not going away. We're still committed to obtaining an independent health-impact statement. Even though Port Metro Vancouver is hiding behind (the limits of) its jurisdictional responsibilities, someone has to take responsibility.

"We're not trying to stop shipments of coal – we just want the truth."

The docks are located on South Fraser Perimeter Road, southwest of the Pattullo Bridge, across from Annacis Island.

 

- with files from Alex Browne
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