Coal transfer facility challenged in federal Court

Court is asked to overturn Vancouver Port Authority's approval of Fraser Surrey Docks coal project


Lawyers representing citizens Paula Williams and Christine Dujmovich, as well as local organizations such as Communities and Coal Society and Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, asked a federal Court this week to overturn the Vancouver Port Authority's approval of a coal transfer facility on the Fraser River.

In a press release posted on Ecojustice Canada’s website, Karen Campbell, one of the lawyers leading the case, says that her clients are convinced "that the Fraser Surrey Docks project approval was tainted by a reasonable apprehension of bias.”

Campbell adds that the Port did not have the legal power to approve the Fraser Surrey Docks coal project. She says her clients allege that the Authority's bias became evident when it made its decision to issue the permit in 2014, “based on a number of factors including a bonus compensation arrangement for some of the Port’s executives.”

Nevertheless, court documents cited by the CBC state that the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority responded to Ecojustice’s arguments saying that "the permit decisions were lawfully made, free from actual bias or the appearance of bias.”

The proposed facility would see up to four million tonnes of thermal coal brought into Surrey from Wyoming, barged to a site on Texada Island and then exported to Asia.

According to Devon Page, another lawyer with Ecojustice, “burning that coal will release up to seven million tonnes of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere each year.” In an article on the NGO’s website, Page adds that their clients “do not want their communities to become conduits for American coal, and they are scared of the health impacts this project could have on their families, their neighbours and the climate we all depend on.”

Contacted by the CBC, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority declined to comment on the case given that the project permit is under judicial review.

The plan is also being challenged by the City of New Westminster and the City of Surrey, and although she didn’t mention it by name while campaigning in Surrey last month, British Columbia’s Premier, Christy Clark, suggested that Canada should ban exports of U.S. thermal coal from its ports.