GCT's DP4 container terminal expansion reaches regulatory milestone

While the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority continues to be embroiled in a prolonged battle over the controversial Roberts Bank Terminal 2 container port expansion project, a rival initiative has reached a major regulatory milestone, officials said this week.

GCT Global Container Terminals Inc. - the operator of the existing Deltaport container terminal facility at Roberts Bank – said its Berth 4 expansion project (DP4) has received approval on its Initial Project Description (IPD) from the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) and the BC Environmental Assessment Office on Sept. 28.

The approval means that DP4 has officially entered the regulatory process phase and will now be open to official public access and engagement on the plans surrounding the project. According to the IAAC, that means the DP4 plan will be official entered into its registry, and stakeholders such as indigenous groups will be contacted. The impact assessment process may also be referred to a review panel – as was the case with Terminal 2 – within the next 45 days.

The planning phase typically takes up to six months to complete, according to federal estimates, before moving on to the second phase (impact statement collection).

GCT has long been one of the biggest critics of VFPA’s Terminal 2 project, which saw its federal decision-making process pushed back to 2021 as Ottawa seeks more information on environmental mitigation efforts from the port authority. GCT has accused the VFPA of “demonstrating bias” in pushing forward Terminal 2 – a significantly larger project than DP4 that would require major landfill construction – while excluding the review of other container terminal expansion bids at Roberts Bank.

The VFPA has said that Terminal 2’s capacity is needed to fulfill the growing container capacity demands expected on North America’s west coast through the mid-2030s. Officials have also stated they would like to see another container terminal operator at Roberts Bank besides GCT to keep pricing competitive for ships looking to use Roberts Bank.

Local environmental groups have railed against the Terminal 2 project, saying the landfill and additional traffic would seriously damage the ecosystem at the nearby habitat for western sandpipers and other species. A review panel result published earlier this year agreed that the VFPA needed to take on more mitigation measures to address environmental concerns at Roberts Bank.

GCT, meanwhile, has touted DP4 as an incremental capacity addition at Roberts Bank that minimizes environmental impact while using the company’s private funds - rather than public money in the case of Terminal 2 - to build the expansion. However, the VFPA disputes that claim - specifically on the funding of Terminal 2 in that the project will use port authority and private investment (that would then be recouped through both the lease with the terminal operator and user fees), not income-tax dollars.

The port authority also emphasized its position as a federal agency in that it is required to follow a public-interest mandate in both facilitating trade and protecting the environment/local communities, a role that - officials stressed - is fundamentally different than private companies like GCT that the VFPA describes as "profit-centric."