MP Russ Hiebert says he believes Port Metro Vancouver is doing due diligence in seeking public input on a proposed new coal-export terminal at Fraser Surrey Docks that could effectively double coal-train traffic through White Rock and South Surrey.
Hiebert (South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale) said he is glad the body, which is the ultimate oversight and approval authority for the terminal, has heeded his and others’ calls for full public consultation on the issue.
“My family and I enjoy the (White Rock) waterfront and we wouldn’t be excited about a significant increase in train traffic,” he acknowledged, but pointed to Fraser Surrey Docks president and CEO Jeff Scott’s appearance last week before White Rock council to discuss the rail impacts of the terminal as an example of continuing dialogue with the public and local government.
“I’m glad they’re consulting widely,” he said. “They’re certainly taking the right steps and the community is being heard.”
Hiebert said he has raised concerns with Transport Canada about potential impact from an increase in coal-train traffic, but noted “they do not have safety or environmental concerns (about it).”
Meanwhile, on the heels of a town-hall meeting at Ocean Park Community Hall last week, a grass-roots organization of Peninsula residents, tentatively called Communities and Coal, is forming to raise awareness of what it sees as the risks of increased coal-train traffic through the area.
Paula Williams, co-organizer of the ‘Coal Awareness Town Hall Meeting’ at Ocean Park Community Hall last Wednesday, said it drew a capacity crowd – “close to 140 people” – who listened to warnings from ‘Whatcom Docs’ member Dr. Frank James and Wilderness Committee representative Eoin Madden about potential impacts of the proposed terminal.
Williams said organizers received so much comment from attendees, it’s evident the next step is formalizing a Facebook page and creating an action plan, including collecting signatures for an anti-terminal petition.
Green-lifestyle blogger Michelle Partridge, who also attended, said she is encouraging others to join “a fight to stop that coal terminal from being built.”
“People there were very concerned and, from what I gathered, most were opposed to the terminal,” the South Surrey resident said. “All of them just wanted clarity on what’s going on – they needed information.”
James told participants there are tangible health hazards from exposure to not only coal dust but also the diesel exhaust that would come with increasing coal-train traffic, Williams said; Madden’s message was that by enabling coal exports to the Far East, residents share responsibility for global warming and its eventual impact on their own environment.
“There were a lot of elderly people there, but I also saw families from my son’s school who came up to me afterwards and said ‘what can we do?’ They were worried,” she said. “The information presented was very much news to members of this community, who had no idea of the impacts this could have.”
Williams said the audience was stunned into silence by some of James’ remarks, including his assertion that coal dust and diesel exhaust pose potential harm to unborn fetuses, and that “pregnant women are highly at risk.”
James told the crowd he is a member of a group of some 200 Bellingham-area doctors who have been instrumental in preventing the development of a similar coal-export operation there.
“He said the reason he came to share this information with us is he knew that if they were successful (a coal port) would be coming up here. He said he was here partly out of guilt.”
The group is organizing an action-plan meeting at a location still to be announced.