Public environmental assessment hearings underway on proposed Roberts Bank container terminal

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has kicked off the public hearing process on the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority's proposed $2 billion to $3 billion Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project.

The hearings, which started Tuesday in Tsawwassen with motions on procedural matters, are scheduled to last until June 24 in communities like Delta, Vancouver, Victoria, Duncan and Port Renfrew. General hearings in Tsawwassen began on Wednesday and will last until Saturday. 

Tuesday's hearing focus centred on the scope of the review that the panel should consider. Brad Armstrong, the lawyer representing the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, reminded the panel that the consideration should be limited within the specifics of the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 proposal - and not include alternatives for additional capacity outside that  location.

"Other parties [at the hearing] have suggested alternative means," Armstrong said. "With respect to alternative means, a number of them have been looked at ... that could be carried out at the Terminal 2 project."

Armstrong also reiterated that the port authority does not project the number of vessels to increase from the new terminal, citing an increase in vessel size that will soak up the extra capacity of containers at Terminal 2: "The number of vessels should stay relatively the same."

Opponents were less optimistic, noting Roberts Bank's growth of about 3.5% in the last decade has been largely built on shipping U.S. containers, contradicting the port's mandate as a catalyst for the Canadian economy. Other opponents noted that a project like Terminal 2 that would install a large man-made island at the mouth of the Fraser River - "the crucible of the Fraser estuary" - should receive the widest-possible spectrum of review possible, including options at DP World's Fairview terminal in Prince Rupert.

Others yet expressed dismay that an expansion to existing Roberts Bank terminals was denied, and yet a new Terminal 2 in close proximity is under consideration.

Hearings on topics such as impact on fish habitat and marine mammals will begin next Tuesday. Sessions will also be dedicated to consultation with specific communities, including First Nations groups such as the Tulalip, Lummi, Tsleil-Waututh and Esquimalt.

The proposed three-berth Terminal 2 would be located next to Roberts Bank's GCT Deltaport and Westshore terminals. Vancouver Fraser Port Authority officials said the project would increase Roberts Bank's annual containerized cargo-handling capacity by 2.4 million 20-foot equivalent units.