New Westminster 'not surprised' about coal terminal approval

The granting of a permit to allow Fraser Surrey Docks to transfer coal isn't a surprise to some of the proposal's opponents in New Westminster.

On Thursday, Port Metro Vancouver (PMV) approved the expansion project, capable of exporting four million tonnes of thermal coal annually.

Plans call for it to be shipped from Wyoming by train to the docks (FSD) which are directly across from New Westminster's Queensborough and Quayside neighbourhoods. FSD will transfer it onto barges bound for Texada Island where it will be loaded on to freighters for export to China.

"It's a bit of a disaster. Certainly to approve before they have a full health impact study done with health officers involved does [the process] an injustice," said Quayside Residents Association past president James Crosty, a long-time opponent of the proposal.

In approving the permit, PMV said studies by independent environmental consultant Golder Associates verified FSD's findings on the potential impact. But Crosty questioned the validity of the findings because FSD won't allow the air quality testing Metro Vancouver and Fraser Health Authority's medical health officers have called for. FSD has gone to court saying it doesn't have to allow the testing because the transfer facility will be on federally owned and regulated lan

"It's like saying they live in a bubble," said Crosty.

FSD and PMV touted the project as creating 25 full-time jobs and 25 indirect full-time jobs.

"All this for 25 jobs?" questioned Crosty. "It's hypocritical for the industry to justify the export of U.S. coal for 25 jobs. You mean to say we can't create 25 other jobs, and they tell me solar and wind power are exceeding the jobs over the ones being created by mining that we have to bring this U.S. coal in."

Crosty is worried New Westminster property values will deteriorate when the coal comes in. He said he knows of some residents who have sold their Quayside residences for that reason alone.

"It's disheartening to know this will affect property values in a big way," said Crosty. "Whether it's a reality or not, it's certainly a perception."

He blasted the province for not speaking out against the project, and for approving the Texada transfer area without any notice. And he said the Transportation Safety Board report on the Lac Mégantic train disaster shows the federal government isn't providing proper oversight.

"There's a lack of political leadership in the process here, both federally and provincially," said Crosty. "We have lost the ability of government to take care of us."

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy, chair of the city's environment committee, said PMV and FSD brushed away every issue they could and deliberately froze out the chief medical health officers to chase money while they can.

"This is a gold rush mentality. Let's sell as much of this American coal as we can because the U.S. ports won't take it. Let's wash our hands of it and be done," said McEvoy. "It's a lot of money, and I'm sure there are jobs in Wyoming connected to this. But it's also not for terribly long. This is expected to be about a 20-year type of thing."

He said China knows it has health and environment problems and is working toward not using coal as a heat source. "This [demand for coal] is going to be temporary … The attitude here is to make as much money as possible off of this while it still exists."

McEvoy said FSD's argument that Metro Vancouver's bylaws don't apply to them shows they're worried about contravening them.

"If it's safe, then why would you worry about the bylaw. These guys are jokers. They've been like this since the beginning," said McEvoy. "This is the arrogance we see of these bodies run by unelected people brushing off safety concerns."

McEvoy said it's similar to the lack of government oversight prior to the Lac-Mégantic train derailment disaster in Quebec July 6 last year and the Babine Forest Products sawmill explosion and fire in Burns Lake in January 2012.

"Legitimate concerns were raised but not treated as legitimate, they were brushed aside," said McEvoy. "Now we're seeing the consequences."

Chuck PuchmayrNew Westminster Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said it seemed the decision was inevitable from the onset.

"I am absolutely not surprised," said Puchmayr. "It is going to to have some very adverse impacts to the quality of life in our community."

He warned it could get worse when the province replaces the Massey Tunnel with a bridge allowing deep-sea freighters to access the Fraser Surrey Docks.

"The barging (to Texada) is sugar coating to give people the belief it's a smaller scale than it is," said Puchmayr.

Port Metro Vancouver said its priority during the review process was to make sure any risks of adverse impacts were mitigated to acceptable levels. PMV vice-president of operations Peter Xotta said it was a decision that wasn't taken lightly.

"Through our comprehensive project review process, stakeholder consultation, as well as third-party validated environmental and health studies, it was determined there are no unacceptable risks and the project should be permitted."

The battle is likely not entirely over. Crosty has advocated against the proposal for two years including initiating a petition, which he claims received twice as many signatures from New Westminster residents than those who voted in the last civic election. Other groups have banded together across the Lower Mainland to fight the approval, only to see it get the green light from Port Metro Vancouver.

"We'll have to redirect the passion," said Crosty, citing the Metro Vancouver air quality court battle as one of the last hopes. "We did a hell of a job, but we still lost."

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