New West council steamed about coal proposal

New Westminster city council fears a new proposal for Fraser Surrey Docks could lead to a full-blown coal terminal across from Westminster Quay and Queensborough.

Fraser Surrey Docks has contacted Port Metro Vancouver about changing the direct transfer coal facility project permit that was approved last August. The amendment would allow Fraser Surrey Docks to load coal directly from the facility onto ocean-going vessels, rather than on to barges that would transport the U.S. coal to Texada Island before it’s shipped to Asia.

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According to Fraser Surrey Docks, the proposed amendment would have no impact on the volume of coal (four million metric tonnes per year) permitted to be shipped through FSD annually. Because the coal could be loaded directly onto ocean-going vessels, the company states that the proposal would eliminate or reduce the number of barges required at Fraser Surrey Docks.

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr fears the new proposal could have an “even greater impact” on New Westminster than the original proposal, and could lead to “even greater volumes” of coal going through the Fraser Surrey Docks facility.

“I always predicted that was a soft sell,” he said of FSD’s initial proposal. “The freighters they were intending to load at Texada did have a capacity to enter the Fraser River so I was very puzzled they would start off with this as a transfer station. I think the outcry would have been a lot more severe if people knew they were going to create a full-fledged thermal coal export facility right in the absolute heart of Metro Vancouver.”

On Monday, council approved a motion to continue to oppose the Fraser Surrey Docks coal export facility and to voice concerns about the lack of public health analysis, a scientific environmental analysis and an analysis of the global impacts of greenhouses gases associated with the export of thermal coal from Fraser Surrey Docks.

According to Port Metro Vancouver’s website, it hasn’t received an application for a permit amendment from Fraser Surrey Docks at this time. Fraser Surrey Docks notified stakeholders of its plan on May 4 and is accepting comments until May 19.

If the plan goes ahead, Puchmayr believes Fraser Surrey Docks would become a full-fledged coal terminal because “there’s no ability” for local governments or the public to restrict the volumes.

“They have the ability to do whatever they please,” he said. “If suddenly they decided they wanted to load barges and send them to Texada, we have no input on that whatsoever. Neither does Metro Vancouver, neither do local governments. They can set the benchmarks and the rules.”

Along with New Westminster city council and environmental groups, many residents expressed concern about the environmental and health impacts associated with a coal facility at Fraser Surrey Docks.

Puchmayr is a member of the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance, which includes elected officials from Washington State, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, California and British Columbia seeking to raise awareness about the safety risks of oil and coal transportation.

“We received huge support from elected officials south of the border opposing the Fraser Surrey Dock facility and lodging a concern with Metro Vancouver about the export facility, the air quality issues and the wastewater issues. We are getting huge support from our American friends down there,” Puchmayr said. “This affects them as well. The volume of those trains running through their communities to bring dirty American coal to Canada is just as impacting as it is to us.”

Puchmayr said it’s “ludicrous” that Port Metro Vancouver is allowing a facility for American thermal coal to be located in the heart of the Greater Vancouver Regional District.

“We are asking the general public to comment as well,” Puchmayr said. “I want residents to know where to send their comments to and to oppose this in the most extreme manner.”

Details about the proposal and links to comment can be found at www.fsd.bc.ca/index.php/amendment.

Kevin Washbrook, a director with Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, said the plan is shifting from being a coal transfer facility to a full-on coal port on the Fraser River, a short distance from homes and across the river from downtown New Westminster. The group believes the proposal to load ocean-going vessels in Surrey raises questions about the stockpiling of coal on the site and an increase of U.S. coal travelling through Metro Vancouver by train.

Voters Taking Action on Climate Change said it never had any confidence that Fraser Surrey Docks or Port Metro Vancouver had a solid plan for monitoring or managing coal dust and coal waste water losses from barges in the Strait of Georgia and the Fraser, or for safely storing loaded barges of self-combusting coal in Metro Vancouver municipalities.

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