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Coal terminal plans worry New Westminster councillors

A Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD) proposal for a coal export terminal has New Westminster city councillors concerned about coal dust floating across the river and the possibility of spillage.

The proposal before Port Metro Vancouver calls for thermal coal to be brought by train from Wyoming and loaded onto barges at FSD to be shipped to Texada Island for transfer to deep-sea freighters.

Although port officials told Black Press last week New Westminster had been notified, Coun. Jaimie McEvoy, chair of the city's environment committee, said on Monday that city staff had not been contacted about the project.

"I'm worried about all of it," said McEvoy. "That sounds like a lot of opportunity for spillage and mishap. Barges don't have full containment. If you don't have full containment, are you going to get coal dust in the air?"

Coun. Bill Harper wants a complete review of the proposal.

"It's a big issue in the sense that it's an economic driver, and the technology on coal is getting better. Whether it's good enough, I don't know," said Harper. "It's got to be really studied really clearly."

Just back from a trip to China, Harper noticed the effect the heavy use of coal has on that country where it seems the cities are in a constant state of fog because of the dependence on coal as an energy source.

"It's like 18th century London," said Harper. "It's on their A list to try and fix."

The proposal is to build a terminal in Surrey, as well as expand an existing one in North Vancouver.

Last week, the environmental group Voters Taking Action on Climate Change (VTACC) issued an open letter opposing the coal export plans. Its signatories included New Westminster resident Mark Jaccard, a Simon Fraser University energy economics professor. He was arrested earlier this year for participating in a blockade of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway in White Rock in protest of the coal transportation plans.

Although the letter called for a full public review, it's up to Port Metro Vancouver to make the decision. No formal public meetings or approvals from other agencies would be needed.

"It's worth taking that issue very seriously, especially given what we know about the health impacts of coal dust," said (VTACC) activist Kevin Washbrook of the possibility New Westminster would be directly affected by Fraser Surrey Docks' plans. "Coal dust isn't benign, it's full of heavy metals, arsenic, lead chromium. These are not things we should be breathing in. This is not dirt, we'd be breathing in heavy stuff."

The FSD proposal calls for one coal train a day to arrive and load directly onto a barge without requiring coal to be stockpiled at FSD, which a PMV official said is currently underused.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson also said last week she is "very concerned" about the proposal.

– With files from Jeff Nagel

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