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New Westminster council gets a lesson in "fugitive" coal dust

Port Metro Vancouver is seeking detailed information about "fugitive dust" and other issues related to a proposed coal transport facility at Fraser Surrey Docks.

Port Metro Vancouver is seeking detailed information about "fugitive dust" and other issues related to a proposed coal transport facility at Fraser Surrey Docks.

Port Metro Vancouver has received an application to allow the Fraser Surrey Docks to accommodate a facility where coal is loaded from trains onto barges using a conveyor system. Environmentalists and health officials have raised concerns about the potential negative impacts of the proposed facility. The City of New Westminster is calling on Port Metro Vancouver to address community concerns about the proposed facility that's located on the riverfront directly across from Westminster Quay.

"Concerns have been raised about the local environmental and health impacts of the coal facility's operation as well as the global impacts of expanding coal use by organizations as diverse as local governments, medical health officers and environmental advocacy groups," said a staff report to council. "These concerns include local engine emissions from trains and tugboats, global greenhouse gas emissions from burning the shipped coal, dust from train movements and coal transfer operations, chemicals used in train cars and barges for dust suppression, soil and water contamination and risks related to explosions, fires, collision and spills."

The Feb. 4 staff report stated that trains loaded with coal would be brought to Fraser Surrey Docks, where coal is unloaded into a pit through doors under the train cars and then loaded onto barges by a conveyor belt and transported to a deep sea shipping facility at Texada Island for customers in Asia. Staff said it's not expected that the coal trains will be routed through New Westminster, but they could temporarily come through the city if the tracks on the south side of the Fraser River are blocked for any reason.

The staff report stated that it appears Fraser Surrey would be able to meet air quality objectives if the coal pit and conveyor system facilities are enclosed, dust control devices such as chemically-enhanced water spray are used, and coal is stored outside only in "emergency" situations.

Representatives from Metro Vancouver appeared at city council Monday night to assure the city that the application is undergoing a thorough review.

"Obviously we have heard loud and clear from people who have concerns with coal and about the product itself, both from the perspective of the effect on greenhouse gases when it is burned overseas, but as well about potential health impacts of the project locally," said Jim Crandles, director of planning and development. "We have been very transparent and clear about the port's role in how we look to facilitate trade. Our goal is to be here for the trade that needs to go through our waterways and to look at making sure that any project that occurs on port property meets our high test for its environmental effects. What we have been focusing on is making sure that the project can deliver that. As it relates to the bigger question of how it relates to how and what we trade, that conversation needs to happen at senior levels of government."

Crandles said Port Metro Vancouver's comprehensive project review process will address citizens' concerns about coal.

"I want to assure everyone that that is something we do consider in our review process. As for the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal, they were required to submit studies to us on how they would deal with fugitive coal dust, what measures they would take into place," he said. "That's what we are reviewing today. We are also hearing from other folks about concerns about that."

In addition to coal activities taking place at Fraser Surrey Docks, Crandles said people have voiced concerns about how the facility would ensure that coal dust isn't migrating off of trains, something he said is being addressed by the railways as the port doesn't have control of the railway system.

According to Crandles, Port Metro Vancouver has asked Fraser Surrey Docks to submit a comprehensive proposal that is backed up by studies looking at issues such as noise, dust and transportation issues. He said Port Metro Vancouver is committed to providing a "consideration memo" when it makes a decision about the project - a document that would highlight all the issues raised during the process and indicate how those concerns would be addressed.

"We have not finished that process. We are still waiting to hear from other folks, the City of Surrey for example," Crandles said. "We want to make sure all those things are addressed before we are in a position to make a decision."

According to Crandles, the review process ensures that any development that occurs within the port's jurisdiction meets all applicable standards and addresses any community impacts.

"As part of that approval process we also conduct an environmental review. ...We are required under that (Canadian Environmental Assessment) Act to ensure any projects under our jurisdiction do not result in any significant adverse environmental effect," he said. "We have a well-established environmental procedure that works hand-in-hand with our project review."

Although the project is proposed within the footprint of an existing terminal, Crandles said coal is a product that is not currently handed at Fraser Surrey Docks so the port's process would consider a wide variety of issues as part of the environmental review.

According to Crandles, dust is the biggest issue that usually arises any time a material is being moved in bulk, whether it's at a coal terminal or a cement facility. He said the goal is to deal with potential dust proactively and have mitigation measures in place to avoid potential issues.

"The issues of dust are a central part of any review that we undertake," he said. "The key to it is ensuring that there are appropriate mitigations on the terminal itself dealing with the handling. It's usually the handling of a product that creates the most opportunity for fugitive dust."

Coun. Betty McIntosh said there is also a potential for additional diesel emissions if more trucks and trains are accessing Fraser Surrey Docks. She said the particulates from diesel are a significant issue related to lung disease.

According to Crandles, Port Metro Vancouver notified neighbours within a two-kilometre radius, which represents about 3,200 residents in Surrey, North Delta and New Westminster.

Coun. Jonathan Cote said the city is getting a lot of feedback about the proposal, including concerns about air quality and noise. While the facility is proposed in Surrey, he said there is likely a higher density of residents in Queensborough and the Quay would be affected by the proposal than residents of Surrey and Delta.

Coun. Bill Harper said the community has a "whole series" of issues about the proposal and people need to have some comfort around this development. He noted that the city has put a lot of effort into revitalizing its riverfront.

"To have this facility come in and undercut all that progress, I think would be travesty," he said.

Mayor Wayne Wright said residents have a lot of questions about the proposal and need to have those questions answered before a decision is made.