With or without a new coal-export terminal, rail traffic through the Semiahmoo Peninsula is destined to increase, White Rock council heard Monday.
“If it’s not going to be coal, it is going to be something,” said Jeff Scott, president and chief executive officer of Fraser Surrey Docks.
“The unfortunate reality is there’s just no other… readily available energy source.”
Scott was invited by the city to speak about Fraser Surrey Docks’ application to build a new coal-export terminal, which would bring in thermal coal from Wyoming via the BNSF railway that runs through communities including White Rock, South Surrey and Delta. Coal-train traffic from Fraser Surrey Docks would jump to two trains per day from one – by approximately 320 loaded trains per year – and create 50 jobs if the project is approved, Scott said. The coal handled would be destined for Asian countries; in particular Korea, but also Japan and China.
But without assurances that dust from the trains is not a health hazard to residents and will be properly mitigated, it’s a move the City of White Rock does not support, Mayor Wayne Baldwin told Peace Arch News after the meeting.
“We want to know what is happening with that dust, does it occur” and can it be mitigated, Baldwin said. “If it can’t, don’t bring the trains through here. We’re not in favour.”
Councillors’ questions for Scott ranged from why the facility had to be built locally to whether the railway could be re-routed to keep the coal away from seaside resort areas such as White Rock and Crescent Beach.
Scott said there is “currently no other option” than the BNSF line.
“The reality is, we are an available site to handle this product, which is a safe product to handle.”
Coun. Louise Hutchinson – noting she has travelled to the Asian countries the coal is destined for – disagreed.
“We’re just contributing to the poor health of the Koreans, the Japanese and the Chinese,” Hutchinson said. “We should all be listening to people like (environmental scientist) David Suzuki and not be exploiting other countries with consumable natural resources that are going to run out.”
Scott assured the politicians that Fraser Surrey Docks is “confident that we’ve been able to address all of our stakeholder concerns.”
Plans include the use of a water-suppression system to mitigate dust, cleaning the rail cars as they head out of the facility and implementing speed limits on coal barges. The new facility would be fully enclosed, he added, and the total handling time by Fraser Surrey Docks “is probably less than two minutes.”
Coun. Grant Meyer said that while he agrees rail is the most efficient way to move goods, he has “some issues” with the water-suppression system.
Meyer said that through his work with BC Ferries, he passes by Roberts Bank – where a similar system is used – four times a day, with seemingly little effect: “Many mornings we come to work and the ship’s covered in coal dust.”
Meyer was also concerned about particulate from coal burned in Asia coming back to the Peninsula.
In response to questions from Coun. Helen Fathers, Scott said building the new facility in Surrey is about “timing to market.” Because there is an existing facility, it would take just six months to build a new one, as opposed to up to 10 years to start fresh in the U.S.
He noted trains now on White Rock’s waterfront hail from Westshore Terminal, which handles eight metric tonnes of coal per year.
Legal authority to approve the project rests with the federally appointed Port Metro Vancouver.