Queensborough residents raise concerns about proposed industrial facility in New West

Starla Lowdell moved to Queensborough four years ago thinking it would be a healthy place to live. Now, she’s worried she may have to move.

Lowdell was among more than 100 people who attended a community forum hosted by the Queensborough Residents’ Association on Monday night. The group held the meeting to give community members a chance to discuss Summit Earthworks' proposal to build a contaminated soil transfer facility and a gravel storage facility at Salter Street and Derwent Way.

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“If this happens and the toxins are strong enough, it may force me to leave Queensborough,” she told the Record after the meeting. “I moved to Queensborough because I could be here and live a clean life. When I moved to Queensborough, I was almost dead.”

Lowdell suffers from TILT, toxicant-induced loss of tolerance, having been exposed to enough negative chemicals in her life that her body doesn’t tolerate them anymore. The military-grade mask she wears is made of activated carbon and protects her from airborne particulates – something she fears will be generated by the proposal.

“When we put our children in these environments, we are putting them at risk,” she said. “I don’t have children, but I’m not comfortable with the children in my community being exposed.”

Representatives attending Monday night’s meeting included: New Westminster-Burnaby MP Peter Julian; Richmond-Queensborough MLA Jas Johal; New Westminster councillors Patrick Johnstone and Nadine Nakagawa; and several city staff. While planner Deborah Renn and planning supervisor Tim Blair attended on behalf of the Port of Vancouver, officials from Summit Earthworks did not attend – much to the chagrin of many attendees.

Summit Earthworks’ website states it is proposing to build and operate a soil transfer and barge loading facility on land leased from the Port of Vancouver.

“The primary use of the site is for the transfer of soil from truck to barge,” states the website. “Proposed ancillary uses include the temporary storage and transfer of gravel via truck, and the transfer of soil offsite via truck; the need for and frequency of the ancillary uses will be determined once the facility is in operation.”

Among residents who spoke at Monday’s meeting, traffic was cited as a major concern, as it’s felt trucks travelling through the neighbourhood to transport gravel and soil from the site could pose safety issues, contribute to congestion, stress existing infrastructure and negatively impact air quality. Residents also voiced concerns about the environmental impact the project would have on the Fraser River, ditches and air quality.

“If you lived down here, you’d have a loud voice as well. There is only one answer to this whole thing: you’ve got the wrong area,” said one man. “Take your report and say you have to go somewhere else.”

Ron Basran said these types of facilities are more appropriately situated near the Number 1 highway, rather than in the heart of a residential area on an island where traffic grinds to a halt if there’s an accident or stall.

“We cannot handle the traffic,” he said. “That’s the first thing that should be looked at.”

Laura Ranalletta, a member of the residents’ association, said Queensborough has traditionally been a very industrial space with fishing and lumber industries but has seen “rapid development” in the past 12 to 15 years. She said that residential development will continue, with at least 650 new dwellings coming online in the next five years.

“Maybe 30 years ago when that area wasn’t densely populated, this could be a possibility, the impacts could be lower,” she said. “What we are saying right now is this is just not suitable for a residential neighbourhood.”

Amanda Warren walks her three-year-old child by the industrial site daily. Given its proximity to residences, a day-care centre, a community park with tennis courts and a children’s playground and a well-used pedestrian walkway, she thinks the proposal is “highly inappropriate” for the area.

Julian said the site “is not at all appropriate” for what’s being proposed in the application. He said there’s been inadequate consultation with the community and pledged to write to the port authority to say it needed to be doing more meaningful consultation with the public.

“Port authorities right across this country seem to run roughshod over consultations with communities and neighbourhoods,” he said.

Laurie Moore, president of the Queensborough Residents’ Association, said residents feel there’s been an “omission of information” about the proposal from Summit Earthworks and the Port of Vancouver.

Renn said the port authority recognizes “it’s been a long time” since it reached out to the community about the project, saying that’s because there have been a lot of changes to the application.

“We will be taking this to another round of public consultations, based on the amount of time that has lapsed, the amendments that have happened and the interest from the public,” she said. “We are aware there was a large amount of responses to the original consultation.”

Port of Vancouver officials attended Monday’s meeting in response to an invitation from the residents’ association, but Renn said the meeting isn’t part of its official review process. She said the best way for people to provide feedback on the application is to write or email the port authority during the formal consultation process.

Residents questioned if the port authority owns another property that would be available for this this type of operation.

Blair said the port authority has significant lands up and down the Fraser. While there aren’t a lot of sites that are vacant, he said there may be some that are suitable.

“That’s the challenge with this issue. It’s urban development in a region that is growing,” he said. “There are more and more people moving here. There is more construction. There are pressures on all sides.”

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