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Coal plan gets green light from Port

The dust hasn’t even settled and already New Westminster residents are voicing their outrage with Port Metro Vancouver’s decision to approve Fraser Surrey Docks’ proposed coal transfer project.
Port Metro Vancouver has approved a permit that would allow Fraser Surrey Docks to operate a coal transfer facility on the Fraser River. A local man is wondering whether that's coal he's spotted in local rail cars.

The dust hasn’t even settled and already New Westminster residents are voicing their outrage with Port Metro Vancouver’s decision to approve Fraser Surrey Docks’ proposed coal transfer project.

Thursday morning Port Metro Vancouver announced it had granted a project permit to Fraser Surrey Docks for a $15-million direct coal transfer facility that will see four million metric tonnes of coal, mined in the United States, pass through the docks in Surrey. From the local facility, directly across the river from New Westminster’s Quayside neighbourhood, the coal will be shipped by barge to China via Texada Island.

Quayside resident and vocal anti-coal activist James Crosty was outraged when The Record reached him shortly after the decision was made.

“It’s really disgusting,” he said. “I can’t believe that they’ve ignored all of the processes that were put into place.”

Crosty was one of the leaders of an anti-coal petition, which was signed by nearly 25,000 people and to this day is still gathering signatures.

“It’s just so typical to announce it in the summer hoping that people will let it go, but there are 25,000 signatures opposed to this in the Lower Mainland.”

The fight against the proposal has been raging for nearly two years.

Cities including New Westminster, Delta and even Surrey openly opposed the coal transfer facility, citing the possible detrimental health impacts, which they said weren’t properly addressed in the health impact assessment done earlier this year.

Municipal leaders, including New Westminster school trustees, called upon Port Metro to demand a more comprehensive assessment from Fraser Surrey Docks.

Council candidate Patrick Johnstone said he was disappointed in the decision but not surprised.

“Once the federal government decided they didn’t want to do a formal environmental assessment of projects like this, I think the port just did a cursory review that was set up to grant approval,” he told The Record.

Johnstone said facilities like Fraser Surrey Docks are disregarding the municipalities in which they operate and despite claiming they were open to public input, ignored an outpouring of opposition against the project.

New Westminster Environmental Partners spokesperson Andrew Murray agreed.

“The democratic model is broken. Our democratically elected members of our local governments are being bypassed by federal bodies that are working from a very rigid ideologically viewpoint on trade, with no consideration for the implications of global climate change,” he said. “That’s just fundamentally wrong.”

Coal is not only a contentious issue across in the Lower Mainland.

South of the border, Oregon recently denied Ambre Energy the permit it needed to build a similar facility at Port Westward.

Speaking to Port Metro Vancouver’s decision, Crosty, Johnstone and Murray all agreed the possible environmental and health impacts aren’t worth the 25 jobs the project will create.

But despite the disappointing decision, all three men are hope Metro Vancouver, which recently issued a ticket to Fraser Surrey Docks for a poor air quality assessment, can stop it.

“They have to get a licence from Metro Vancouver and they have taken Metro Vancouver to court on that issue,” Crosty said. “That certainly has to flow its way through the courts. I can’t imagine they would be allowed to operate until that’s cleared. At least that’s my hope.”

Murray echoed Crosty and said he is shocked at the arrogance of Fraser Surrey Docks and Port Metro Vancouver to say the coal transfer facility wasn’t required to adhere to bylaws laid out by municipalities and Metro Vancouver.

Murray told The Record in an earlier interview: “The opposition will be there every step of the way. They don’t take into consideration the global impacts of exporting thermal coal. We question what the end game is. The bigger issue is Port Metro Vancouver. They cannot run ramshackle over democratically elected governments and the regional growth plans we spent years putting together.”

According to a press release from Fraser Surrey Docks, there was a significant amount of work done as part of the review process for the project, including environmental impact reports, air quality reports and human-health risk assessments along with the development of a “comprehensive” strategy for the logistics of the facility.

“We take our obligation to the community very seriously, as we have for over 50 years. We understand our responsibility and will deliver on our commitment to ensure this project is operated safely and responsibly,” Jeff Scott, president and CEO of Fraser Surrey Docks said in the release.

The project is set to start as soon as possible with construction planning. Operations at the new facility is expected to begin in the fall of 2015.