Opposition to a proposed truck parking facility on the Surrey/Langley border is about more than the environment, according to a panel of speakers at a community meeting last weekend.
The event, which saw more than 150 people pack the Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club, was hosted by Friends of Hazelmere/Campbell Valley, a group that formed in September that has spoken out against the proposal.
At issue is an application to build a 77-acre commercial truck park at 16 Avenue and 194 Street, endorsed by Surrey Coun. Tom Gill, who has cited the need for such a facility, noting 1,300 big rigs are parked illegally throughout the city.
Parm Garcha, a proponent of the application put forth by GG Metro Holdings Ltd., told Peace Arch News last month that his group was “making sure we address each and every concern to the fullest.”
While many in opposition to the proposal have expressed environmental concerns for the Little Campbell River, which runs adjacent to the property, David Anderson, director of the A Rocha Brooksdale Environmental Centre, said Sunday that concerns are shared by a “diverse cross-section” of stakeholders.
“There are a lot of issues at play with this development,” Anderson told the crowd. “This is not a truckers-versus-environmentalists issue; that’s a caricature, and a grossly simple one.”
Topics discussed by the panel included the state of the trucking industry and effects of extensive deregulation over the past 15 years, the future of traffic and industry along 16 Avenue, food security for the region and for the Semiahmoo First Nation and safety of the nearby river.
A prevalent sentiment was the notion that providing truck parking is a provincial responsibility, as Bob Donnelly, president of the Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club pointed out.
Acknowledging that there is “absolutely” a need for truck-parking facilities, Donnelly pointed to the provincial government’s 10-year transportation plan, released in March, which calls for “priority locations for new and expanded parking and other truck-related facilities.”
He also noted an interview with Transportation Minister Todd Stone a few weeks prior to the plan’s release in which he said he was prepared to deliver two truck-parking facilities in Surrey.
“The province should be able to stand up and say we will come up with a truck-parking facility,” Donnelly said. “Why are we looking to a private-sector group to deliver something like that?”
David Klassen, a retired commercial transport worker and former transportation committee chair for Unifor Local 114, also pointed the finger at the provincial and federal governments, who he said should be providing adequate places for truckers to rest and service their vehicles.
Klassen explained how extensive deregulation in the industry and subsequent “downloading of costs” has resulted in “razor-thin profit margins and unsustainable deficits” for owner/operator or lease/operator truckers, and said it made no sense to have “the poorest truckers pay for the most expensive land,” under the proposed facility.
“The way the provincial and federal governments have treated trucking companies and commercial transport workers by not providing good – let’s call them what they are – rest stops and service facilities, is an absolute disgrace,” Klassen, a longtime Surrey resident, said.
The future of 16 Avenue was addressed by Kevin Mitchell, a South Langley resident with 33 years experience in the engineering and manufacturing industry.
Mitchell outlined the history of 16 Avenue and the frequency of serious accidents along the designated truck route, including the Oct. 28 crash between two dump trucks and a minivan that he said resulted in a diesel spill into the Little Campbell River.
Noting the BC Chamber of Commerce is lobbying to have the road designated as a provincial highway, Mitchell said he suspects the truck-park proposal is “the beginning of the industrialization of 16 Avenue.”
Speaking on behalf of Semiahmoo First Nation, councillor Joanne Charles said the band has “a lot of concerns” about the proposal, notably the band’s reliance on fish from the “sacred water” as a food source.
“The City of Surrey and the proponent should be talking to us, government to government,” Charles said. “Unfortunately, that has not happened. I’m just trying to let everybody know the best I can that nobody has consulted with us…”
Grant Rice, founding member of the Surrey Urban Farmers Market, carried on the topic of food security, pointing to the province’s strategic agriculture plan, which calls for an additional 91,000 hectares of designated farmland, and noting the Hazelmere Valley as an “excellent” place for growing food.
“We have great policy, but we don’t have great action,” Rice said, referencing the City of Surrey’s Official Community Plan, sustainability charter and agriculture enhancement and protection strategy.
“We don’t have strategies to put these policies into action, and when we do, we don’t follow through on those actions.”
On the topic of environmental impact – specifically the health of the Little Campbell River – Jim Armstrong, former Metro Vancouver environmental planner, did not mince his words.
“You alter 77 acres of truck park, that stream is dead,” Armstrong said, noting he has 20 years of research on the river under his belt. “I’ve been doing this for 44 years, I worked on hazardous-waste response for the province of B.C. Is it going to happen? Absolutely. It’s a matter of when.”
The proposal, to proceed, would require rezoning of the property from its current agricultural use to industrial. City staff are reviewing the application before it is brought back to council.