Roberts Bank Terminal 2 hearings broach topics of fuel spills, other ecological impacts

The public environmental assessment hearings on the subject of Roberts Bank’s proposed Terminal 2 container port project continued this week, with debates so far mostly centred around local ecological impacts.

The hearings - led by a three-member panel headed by independent panel chair Jocelyn Beaudet - focused on topics such as fish habitat, underwater noise and marine vegetation impacts in the process’s second week.

And although Beaudet said Friday that the topic will be delved into further at a future hearing, the subject of potential fuel spills was broached during the presentation of Parks Canada archeologist Aaron Osicki, who said scientists have identified “hundreds” of sites that may be affected by spills and other wave actions from the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority expansion.

Thus, Osicki said he recommends the VFPA work with Parks Canada to establish an erosion monitoring program, setting up a baseline study prior to Terminal 2’s construction so that the impact of the shipping traffic can be measured once the project is complete.

The exact impact, however, remains unknown at this point, Osicki said.

“We have lots of known sites, so those area will be the focus of the start of the [assessment] process,” Osicki said. “We will work with other agencies - especially if the sites overlap with provincial land. But our knowledge of the specific impact would be limited until we go take a closer look at the sites.”

In its presentation, the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy also agreed that a spill response plan - meeting the requirements of the Environmental Management Act - should be put in place by a collaboration of federal and provincial officials. The province also recommended the VFPA take into account new research that "indicates climate change is causing an increase in the strength of coastal storms."

Some voices from local industry strongly backed the proposed expansion, mostly on the reason that the additional container capacity would allow certain sectors to better serve a rapidly growing Asian market.

Tim McEwan, senior vice president at the Independent Contractors and Businesses Associations of BC (ICBA), urged authorities to approve the new terminal as soon as possible, since markets like China have shown demand for both resources and service expertise associated with the construction industry.

McEwan added that those demands - if not fulfilled by B.C. and Canada due to port capacity limitations - will quickly go to someone else.

“We certainly believe in responsible resource and construction development,” McEwan said. “Today, with the limited time available, we wanted to focus on the economic importance [of the terminal]… and time is a factor.”

The hearing continues until June 24, with First Nations consultation sessions starting this weekend. The proposed three-berth Terminal 2 would be located next to the GCT Deltaport and Westshore terminals. Vancouver Fraser VFPA officials said the project would increase Roberts Bank's annual containerized cargo-handling capacity by 2.4 million 20-foot equivalent units.