Port Edward councillors raise Vopak emergency preparedness concerns

At the March 12 meeting councillor Kristoff said "nobody's ready" for the increased rail traffic

A rendering of the Vopak tidewater access terminal proposed for Ridley Island from water, presented to Port Edward Council at their March 12 regular meeting. (Source: Vopak presentation)

Vopak presented at the Port Edward regular council meeting on March 12, providing more detail on their plans to develop a tidewater access terminal proposed for Ridley Island, next door to their joint venture with AltaGas.

Business development director, Peter Keeshan, and regulatory and stakeholder relations manager, Marina Spahlinger, attended the meeting on behalf of Vopak, providing council members with an update on the ongoing environmental assessment processes, proposed project components, market interests and emergency response.

The project is currently undergoing a federal environmental assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) 2012 Section 67 and a concurrent assessment by the province.

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Spahlinger told council they expect to finalize and send their Application Information Requirements document to the province over the next couple of months, and then start studies over the course of the spring and summer.

The proposed project includes a bulk liquids tank storage facility for five or six tanks in the first phase of the project. At a later phase they would look to expand up to 15 tanks, as well as a one-kilometre long jetty and supporting infrastructure.

Keeshan said the proposed jetty would be a structured dock with piles and two berths, and would reach out to Coast Island.

“That’s about the farthest island out,” said Mayor Knut Bjorndal. “If you’ve got a boat it cuts off your access out by Coast Island … it cuts off half a mile on the trip to Prince Rupert.”

Bjorndal asked if there would be dredging around the dock, to which Keeshan replied, “at the tail end, yeah, there will be some dredging.”

Spahlinger added that the dredging is being included in the EA.

Ultimately, Spahlinger said they are targeting June 2020 to receive their EA certificate.

In the meantime, Keeshan said they have been looking into market interests.

He said the first phase of the proposed project would focus heavily on methanol, millions of tonnes of it, as well as some additional propane.

“The one that’s really getting the most attention for us right now is the methanol,” he said, adding that they are already working with a potential methanol producer, a new plant proposed for Grande Prairie.

“Then we look at other products to see what kind of interest there is,” he said. “Canola oil gets brought up from time to time as well as perhaps some diesel or perhaps gasoline.”

Keeshan emphasized there is no crude oil on their list, “because it tends to be a hot button.”

READ MORE: Vopak expects 240 liquid gas-by-rail cars per day

A significant portion of the presentation then turned to emergency response for the project, which would involve — at capacity — 240 rail cars of product being transported to Ridley Island per day, to be shipped to markets in Asia.

Councillor James Brown kicked off the discussion, asking Keeshan and Spahlinger if they have an emergency response plan, if they’re working with CN to ensure safety, and for their thoughts on regional emergency response.

“CN is obviously one of the key components that we’ve been working with in terms of all aspects of the project, in terms of the most efficient way to bring it to site as well as the emergency response plans,” Keeshan said.

He said regional response has been raised with regard to their Ridley Island Export Terminal program, but deferred to CN.

“It’s really their jurisdiction, CN’s jurisdiction to work on,” he said, explaining that Vopak is similar to DP World in that it provides market access, but doesn’t own any of the product. “Our scope is really at the end.”

READ MORE: Trial dates edge closer for port, DP World facing fisheries charges

Councillor Murray Kristoff questioned Vopak’s concern for safety beyond their plants, and said he thinks it’s “premature to cut the ribbon on Alta[Gas]when we don’t have anything in place.”

“You say safety’s your number one concern, but that’s on your plant,” he said. “What about the people of Port Edward?”

Kristoff said Port Edward is becoming a bottleneck, a choke point, but “[he doesn’t] see anybody throwing any money [their] way in terms of getting a fire department.”

“We’ve got all this petrochemical industrialization right across the harbour here that we’ve never had before. We’re going to have trains backed up, propane trains here in the next few months, unloading, going to Ridley, but they’re going to be slowing down through our community,” he said.

“Nobody’s ready for that, nobody. We’ve done nothing because CN won’t tell us what we need. Somebody from Terrace is not going to save the day or save anybody from burning to death here, or explosion or anything like that,” he added, referring to regional response.

Chief administrative officer Bob Payette was in attendance at the meeting and confirmed that he’s had conversations with CN, “and that’s the response, is they’ll have their emergency response team out of Terrace instead of Prince George.”

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Kristoff added that an “ongoing fight” between Port Edward and Prince Rupert is cause for concern when it comes to getting help from closer to home.

“Port Ed stands to lose everything, not Prince Rupert,” he said. “You guys know of the ongoing fight between Port Ed and Prince Rupert, and we’re not getting help from anybody.

“There’s nothing in place right now, zero,” he continued. “And now you guys want to quadruple and much more than that even. You guys gotta get on it.”

READ MORE: B.C.’s first propane export terminal ready this spring

Spahlinger asked Kristoff if he’d spoken to the fire chief about current resources, to which Kristoff replied, “We don’t even have a fire chief right now.”

Payette told the Northern View that Shawn Pettitt is no longer with the department and Jason Giesbrecht is acting as the interim fire chief.

Bjorndal also said that emergency response needs to be beefed up, because “at the end of the day … we may have little lapses in enough people to handle emergencies.”

“It’s kind of unnerving. A propane accident down here, it’d wipe out the town site basically,” Bjorndal said, adding that although he’s confident that there’s not going to be a big accident, “there’s never zero.”

“We are not prepared to fight any kind of fire on rail car situation, not one bit,” Kristoff concluded.

Spahlinger said she thinks CN stands to improve its information sharing processes, but that her and Keeshan were “not in a position to speak on behalf of CN in terms of rail safety.”

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She said they are now estimating the project would bring approximately 300 construction jobs over two years during the building phase and an additional 50 long-term positions once completed, mostly hired locally.

Keeshan said based on infrastructure, flows and demand, Vopak expects to operate the proposed project for 50 years or more.


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