Port Metro Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester stood firm Tuesday against calls from coal export opponents for public hearings into a planned new coal export terminal in Surrey.
Critics of the proposal by Fraser Surrey Docks spoke at the port authority’s annual general meeting in Vancouver, most stressing concerns over climate change if more coal from the U.S. is exported through Metro Vancouver and burned in Asia.
Silvester said there will be no public hearing because there’s no legislative trigger for one as Fraser Surrey Docks is an existing facility and coal has been exported through the region “for decades” without difficulty.
The proposed terminal at Fraser Surrey Docks would export an additional four million tonnes of coal per year, an increase of less than 10 per cent in the port’s overall coal-handling capacity.
Critics say the port should have held formal public hearings on the proposed new terminal, rather than let proponent Fraser Surrey Docks lead open houses.
Metro Vancouver’s board has agreed to hold a public meeting on the issue June 14.
Surrey resident and Burns Bog Conservation Society member Steve Faraher-Amidon told the AGM he’s concerned about the port’s lack of transparency on the project and suggested full public hearings would bolster the credibility of the port’s eventual decision.
Vancouver’s Sam Harrison asked if the port could conclude it has broad public support if it green lights the Surrey terminal based on the reaction to date.
Port officials said it was hard to accurately gauge the public mood.
Two women in colourful hats used verse to make their point, singing: “Port authority what are you thinking? Are you responsible? If so to whom? Do you answer to Harper only, what happens when global warming catches up and lowers the boom?”
Others said the port’s aim for sustainable growth should be replaced with a goal of “sustainable shrinkage.”
A Surrey woman living adjacent to Fraser Surrey Docks said the industrial area should instead become a waterfront park.
Silvester said those concerned about climate change from coal should take up that issue with the federal government – the port’s role is to foster the efficient flow of trade, not reject certain types of cargo.
Issues that are beyond the port’s jurisdiction are being relayed to Ottawa, he said.
The potential health hazard from coal dust along the BNSF rail line through White Rock and South Surrey was also raised by a few speakers at the meeting.
But Eric Seiz, president of the Crescent Beach Property Owners’ Association, told the port his group’s issue isn’t coal dust but all trains whistling and blocking the two level crossings that are the only way in and out of the South Surrey neighbourhood.
“Fundamentally, we have no position on what’s sent,” Seiz said. “It’s just how it’s sent in terms of quality of life.”
Seiz said many more trains now roll through and they must whistle four times approaching each level crossing, translating into at least 150 horn toots a day.
He urged the port to consider an underpass to separate trains from road traffic entering Crescent Beach, adding the BNSF north-south line taking cargo to and from the U.S. hasn’t received the hundreds of millions of dollars that has been poured into overpasses along the east-west Roberts Bank rail corridor.
Deltaport critic Roger Emsley also urged the port to address the rush hour “chaos” being caused on Highway 99 at the Massey Tunnel by container trucks congesting the area.
“You’re expanding, it’s getting worse.” Emsley said. “When is Port Metro Vancouver going to get serious about looking at the alternatives, such as short-sea shipping or short-haul rail, or ensuring that those trucks are not using the Massey Tunnel during the peak hours?”
Speaking after the meeting, the port board chair rejected suggestions the board might make it’s decision on the Surrey coal terminal in an open public meeting.
“That won’t happen,” chair Craig Neeser told reporters, citing “competition issues” for business stakeholders.
He suggested many critics were misinformed and could have learned the answers they sought from the port’s website.
Silvester said a decision on the new coal terminal will be made in the coming “weeks or months” – potentially as soon as early July – after all required studies and additional information is complete.
See related story: Health officer seeks probe of coal dust, train impacts