New Westminster opposes coal facility at Fraser Surrey Docks

New Westminster city council is taking a stand against a proposed coal facility at Fraser Surrey Docks.

On Monday, council unanimously supported a motion from Coun. Chuck Puchmayr that the city oppose the shipping of thermal coal from Fraser Surrey Docks. Council also received petitions signed by about 1,000 Quayside and Queensborough residents who are opposed to the proposed expansion at the facility that's located across from the Quay and Queensborough.

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Fraser Surrey Docks has submitted a project permit application to Port Metro Vancouver to develop a direct transfer coal facility that could handle up to four million metric tonnes of coal. After being transported from the United States to Canada by rail, the coal would be placed on barges at Fraser Surrey Docks, travel by water to Texada Island, and from there it would be shipped to Asia.

Puchmayr attended an open house put on by Fraser Surrey Docks last week and wasn't convinced the project would be limited to the scope being proposed at this time.

"Once you allow something like this ... there is a potential this could be a very, very large scale operation," he said. "I am very uncomfortable with that."

Puchmayr also expressed concern about the type of coal that will be handled at the facility, saying it's a highly flammable coal and is a different coal than what's currently handled at Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver.

"This coal here is something of a very volatile nature," he said. "It can ignite on its own."

The motion approved by council states that the facility would be used to ship "volatile thermal coal" from the United States through Fraser Surrey Docks, which is in the vicinity of "our densely populated city". The motion also states that Port Metro Vancouver has not been able to clearly disclose all health and safety data related to this product, including flame retardant solutions required to stabilize the volatility of this coal.

Coun. Bill Harper said the city has requested an environmental review that had been conducted about the proposal.

"They refused to do that," he said of the proponents. "Instead, what they have put forward is a management plan."

Harper said the city needs to know the impact the project would have on the Fraser River, the impacts of coal ash in the air and potential impacts associated with barging coal through the Georgia Strait when gale force winds occur.

"We are going to oppose this coal port until we are satisfied it is safe," he said.

Coun. Betty McIntosh said she fully agrees with council's decision to oppose the project at Fraser Surrey Docks until there is full disclosure about how the environment and the community are going to be affected by the proposal.

Although the facility is located in Surrey, Coun. Jonathan Cote said Queensborough and the Quay are the most densely populated areas to be affected by the project. He said New Westminster council and residents are frustrated that Fraser Surrey Docks chose not to hold either of its open houses in the city.

"Right now we are in a vacuum," said Mayor Wayne Wright. "It is not acceptable."

On May 21, the Queensborough Residents' Association received a presentation from Fraser Surrey Docks' CEO Jeff Scott about the proposal. The group later voted unanimously against it.

On May 3, a delegation of residents from New Westminster, White Rock, Crescent Beach, Surrey and North Delta gathered at the port authority offices in Vancouver to urge it to address concerns about the project and to respond to demands that full public hearings be conducted on the proposal, including meetings in New Westminster.

Fraser Surrey Docks held open houses on May 23 and 25 in Surrey, where representatives from Fraser Surrey Docks, rail and marine providers, and others involved with the project spoke to attendees. Because it didn't hold a meeting in the City of New Westminster, MLA-elect Judy Darcy and MPs Peter Julian and Fin Donnelly are holding a townhall meeting on Thursday, May 30 about the proposed coal facility and have invited Fraser Surrey Docks representatives to attend.

In related news, the New Westminster Chamber of Commerce has indicated it supports the coal facility at Fraser Surrey Docks. The decision came after the chamber's board of directors met with Surrey Fraser Docks' CEO and discussed issues such as rail noise and coal dust and the effects of the project on New Westminster residents and businesses.

"Given the extensive dust mitigation tactics that the project will initiate and the absence of need for any rail cars in New Westminster, the board was satisfied that Surrey Fraser Docks responded to all of the local concerns," said chamber executive director Cori Lynn Germiquet in a press release. "Afterwards, we passed a resolution to support the expansion if all mitigation measures proposed by Fraser Surrey Docks are adhered to."

The New Westminster Chamber of Commerce is also calling for an environmentally sound approach to coal transportation, an issue raised by chamber president Christine Conway at a recent B.C. Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting.

"There was a transportation and export policy on the table specifically addressing the movement of coal," she said in a press release. "By forming our position as a chamber, I was able to present an amendment to the delegates that would address environmental concerns by committing to education and mitigation of environmental impact. The environmental impact was not considered anywhere in this important policy until the New Westminster chamber brought it up. I'm proud to say that the amendment was accepted, and your concerns will now be brought by the B.C. chamber to provincial and possibly federal levels of government."

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