Environmentalists from Montana to New Westminster are calling for a "shovel to boiler" impact study for coal shipments, including the Fraser Surrey Docks proposed coal terminal.
And they've expressed skepticism of an environmental assessment of the Fraser Surrey Docks being carried out by SNC Lavalin that is to be finished by the end of the month.
"With just two weeks, I don't see how they can get the baseline data they need to assess the impacts on wildlife and water quality," said Michael Scott of the Montana chapter of the Sierra Club.
The Fraser Surrey Docks proposal would see a coal transfer station built on the Surrey-Delta border that would handle between four million and eight million metric tonnes of coal per year.
The coal will be mined in the Powder River Basin, straddling the Montana-Wyoming border, and shipped by rail cars to barges at the proposed $15-million Fraser Surrey Docks facility. It would ultimately be sent to markets in China.
After boisterous public hearings on the proposal, Port Metro Vancouver ordered the company to do an environmental assessment of the project.
Local environmentalists have criticized the study as being limited in scope.
And Scott said any review of the environmental impact of mining and shipping of coal should be international in scope.
"We need a shovel-to-boiler assessment of the environmental impacts of these kinds of projects," said Scott. "There's no question that it's going to have a major impact on communities all along the line." Mined in Montana and Wyoming, the thermal coal would be shipped north on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail line. The trains would contain
up to 135 cars and stretch over 2.3 kilometres long. Scott said environmental hearings were starting Tuesday in Montana and elsewhere in the United States in a process that may take two years.
The tight time frame of the assessment being conducted by SNC Lavalin for Fraser Surrey Docks is not lost on Dogwood Initiative coal campaigner Laura Benson.
"Given the length of time, it doesn't appear they intend to look at any new data," said Benson. "Really, this whole issue should be looked at in a larger scope and across borders."
New Westminster activist James Crosty said once the assessment is completed, the public will get a chance to comment on the findings.
"I'm hopeful that the people will be listened to," he said.
Fraser Surrey Docks CEO Jeff Scott is on record as saying that his firm is doing everything it can to ensure a safe project. The company says the project will create jobs and boost the local economy.