Terminal 2 opponents want review panel to widen scope of project’s environmental assessment

Public hearings underway on multibillion-dollar Roberts Bank container cargo expansion proposal

Deltaport | Photo: William Jans

Public hearings on the environmental impact of a proposed $3 billion container port terminal at Roberts Bank kicked off in Delta this week with several parties urging the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency review panel to widen the scope of its assessment mandate before going any further.

Meanwhile, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (VFPA) – the proponent of the contentious Terminal 2 project – repeatedly tried to keep the scope of discussion within the direct impact of the facility’s construction, noting that a new terminal is needed to handle the expected boost in containerized transpacific cargo to North America’s West Coast over the next decade.

“Canada’s aspirations to trade more with Asia have been definitive, but data shows the West Coast will run out of capacity by as early as the 2020s,” said Cliff Stewart, the VFPA’s vice-president of infrastructure, during the first day of general hearings. “Over the course of these hearings, we will demonstrate how Terminal 2 is the most undisruptive method to expand capacity on Canada’s West Coast.… We will not authorize the project to go ahead if it has environmental impacts that cannot be mitigated.”

The project, however, is opposed on multiple sides.

Delta mayor George Harvie called for the Terminal 2 review to be widened to include its potential impacts on the hosting community – including the expected increase in truck traffic and concerns regarding a lack of industrial land needed to support the project will result in the VFPA looking for alternatives.

“The Port of Vancouver acknowledges that – as a last resort – it will look at options of industrial uses on agricultural lands to accommodate the land demand for Terminal 2,” Harvie told the panel.

The mayor added that the George Massey Tunnel is already well past capacity as one of Canada’s worst transportation bottlenecks, with as many as 20,000 trucks going through it on a single day as of 2017.

Harvie said that – without addressing the transportation capacity of local roads for the expected doubling of container capacity at Roberts Bank – the project should not be approved.

“Delta is criss-crossed by a series of major highways and railways that link Canada and the U.S., as well as the port with the rest of Canada,” he told the panel. “Unfortunately, the geographic scope of the environmental assessment for Terminal 2 is limited to the terminal and causeway footprint. This means the impact on the transportation system and the local community – of doubling the container capacity at the port – will not be considered by the panel.

“While the benefits [of Terminal 2] are recognized by the City of Delta, the proposed project needs to be evaluated in the broader context of social, community and environmental impact. Delta cannot accept new port development until there is enough capacity in the local transportation network to handle current traffic, let alone the extra traffic.”

But Stewart said that, according to VFPA figures, the number of trucks going through Roberts Bank’s GCT Deltaport container terminal peaks at 5,000 daily, with only about a third of that going through the Massey Tunnel.

He added that – while it is preferred that supporting industrial land be near Roberts Bank, the port’s ecosystem could be expanded if the available industrial land is further inland.

“At this time, we are not looking to look at agricultural land,” he said.

Terminal 2, the VFPA said, would create 108 hectares of new land reclaimed from “deep, subtotal waters” to minimize damage to the environment.

Officials estimate the project, which would also involve a widening of the existing truck causeway, to create 1,500 on-terminal jobs and have up to three berths for containers ships.

Stewart acknowledged there are other projects underway in B.C., including GCT Global Container Terminals Inc.’s plan for a $160 million expansion at Vanterm in Vancouver. DP World Ltd. is also planning a $300 million expansion to Vancouver’s Centerm and additional growth at its Fairview container terminal in Prince Rupert. But he emphasized that the capacity provided by Terminal 2 will still be needed.

“Based on the industry forecast, all of these developments still won’t be enough,” Stewart said. “We came to the conclusion that creating new landmass was the only option.”

However, the City of Delta wasn’t the only party to express concern and/or opposition about the port project. GCT, which has been embroiled in a dispute with the VFPA over its own plans to add a fourth berth at Deltaport, and officials have petitioned Federal Court to take up a judicial review of the VFPA’s refusal to process GCT’s project inquiry. [add this link: https://biv.com/article/2019/03/vancouver-fraser-port-authority-gct-canada-odds-over-roberts-bank-container

At the general hearing for Terminal 2, GCT officials expressed frustration that one of the main reasons for its inability to expand GCT Deltaport – a 2003 letter from Fisheries and Oceans Canada prohibiting further construction on sensitive intertidal land nearby – doesn’t seem to apply to the VFPA’s plans to created landfills for Terminal 2. (Stewart argued that Terminal 2 is different because its smaller.)

Meanwhile, local residents and conservationist groups argued that the new terminal is not needed, citing Roberts Bank’s reliance on a significant amount of American cargo – which contradicts the port’s mission to benefit the Canadian economy. In addition, some are disputing the VFPA’s stance that Terminal 2 sits mostly on deep-water areas.

“If you look at the vegetation map, there’s some vegetation in that area,” said Susan Jones of the Boundary Bay Conservation Committee. “It’s not deepwater like they said.… People ask what has changed since 2003. Well, the law has changed. In 2003, you are not allowed to destroy [natural] habitat; now, you can’t kill fish, but you can destroy the habitat.”

There were also concerns expressed by some – as reflected in the questions from review panel chair Jocelyn Beaudet – that the expansion would eventually be used to ship oil.

But that idea was quickly shot down by Stewart.

“We can categorically state that there’s no factual basis on that specific question,” he said. “Canada has stated it is building a container terminal with 50 to 75 years of life. There has been no discussion of use other than as a container terminal.”

The hearings, which started May 14 in Tsawwassen with motions on procedural matters, are scheduled to run until June 24 in a number of communities, including Delta, Vancouver, Victoria, Duncan and Port Renfrew.

Hearings on topics such as impact on fish habitat and marine mammals will begin next week, and sessions have been scheduled to consult communities such as First Nations groups like Tulalip, Lummi, Tsleil-Waututh and Esquimalt.

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.