(This opinion piece by Peter van der Velden explores many financial, environmental, transportation, and political issues surrounding the removal of the Massey Tunnel and construction of a $3 billion bridge across the Fraser River. Peter is author of the popular “The $3 billion hoodwink” of August 2014 and “The bridge across the mighty Fraser” on 3-Nov-2015)
The Massey Mayhem: Let’s build a bridge!
Having planned to build a new ten lane bridge over the Fraser River, the B.C. Government has yet to provide a business case for the proposal. In the meantime, a $3 billion price tag has been proposed for the bridge and removal of the existing Massey tunnel. Now, with the possibility of liquefied natural gas (LNG) ships passing under the bridge, Port Metro Vancouver (PMV) has stated that they need an additional 8M (24 feet) of height for the bridge. This will not only increase the cost of the bridge, it will add to the difficulty of locating off-ramps for Steveston and Ladner.
Why build a bridge?
The primary reason to replace the tunnel is to allow PMV to bring deeper hull ships through to the Surrey Fraser docks. The tunnel has had $20 million in seismic upgrades in the past ten years and is known to be serviceable for a long time. Why is it that we are even considering replacing the tunnel? It can be an effective part of the solution to the “congestion” experienced in the Lower Mainland. As long as the tunnel is there it will restrict access to both the Oak Street and Knight Street corridors.
Wait, what, why not a bridge?
That may sound like a self defeating notion and is quite likely why a large part of the population is in support of the bridge. It will be more effective at getting cars across the Fraser. However, those same travelers coming from South Surrey and White Rock are then being restricted when crossing into the Vancouver core. The proposed bridge does nothing to solve the traffic nightmare at the Oak Street and Knight Street corridors. Both of these bridges into Vancouver can be as congested as the approach to the tunnel. Once the government commits to building the Massey bridge there will not likely be any funds, desire -or ability- to deal with this “congestion.”
What’s all at stake?
What we haven’t been told is that replacing the tunnel is only a fraction of the cost; there is still more at stake. The Metro Vancouver Water District apparently has a 32” water main near the tunnel that serves Delta. This water main would also have to be removed in order to achieve the desired depth. No cost accounting has been done for moving the water main. It is not clear at this time if Hydro also has any utilities that need to be moved.
The additional one time dredging costs to lower the river bottom to the 13.5 meters (44 feet) depth proposed by the Provincial Government is estimated to be $175 million. The new ongoing annual cost for the deeper proposed dredging depth has not been determined or accounted for. Presently Port Metro Vancouver pays $15 million to dredge the river annually to a depth of 11.5 meters. Only $10 million of that cost is recovered by the sale of sand and the remaining sand has to be disposed of at cost.
There is more to the dredging than a financial cost. A report called “Sediment management in (the) Lower Fraser River” (Michael Church, March 20, 2010) states that to avoid “serious adverse affects to fish population… a long term management program should be initiated before additional sediment is removed by gravel or sand dredging.” No such plan has been undertaken or, at least, made public.
So what’s all the fuss?
The Fraser River estuary has been designated a RAMSAR site, for being an area of international ecological importance for migratory birds and fish species. The removal of the tunnel and increasing shipping traffic along the Fraser River is just one of the proposals that PMV has on the table. An additional three-birth container terminal is being planned at the mouth of the Fraser and LNG shipping is being planned. As well, soft (thermal) coal is now being shipped from the United States through the Surrey Fraser Docks and Texada Island. Only ad-hoc environmental planning has been done for these projects. No full-scale overview has yet been required by any of our environmental agencies.
So what else is involved?
The latest word on LNG is that it will be handled in and shipped from 80
acres of the Tsawwassen lands. Nicely done PMV! Now you can honestly say it is beyond your jurisdiction and wash your hands of the whole affair. No pesky environmental undertakings needed. The leadership of the 430-member Tsawwassen First Nation says it’s committed to ensuring best practices are used in all aspects of this proposal. How this will be achieved was not made clear. Chief Bryce Williams, the youthful leader, said that they “would work with their partners to ensure best practices.” Members of the band will vote on the proposal in mid-December. No other public input will be required. This has to be a coup for Robin Silvester and PMV. What a way to circumnavigate all those environmental concerns!
When Premier Christy Clark announced the bridge proposal she stated that “a new bridge will open the corridor to future rapid transit options.” The operative word here being “future.” The failed Translink plebiscite in July 2015 showed no improvements or transit offerings to the South Delta area. One can only assume that with the proposed bridge costs it will be a long way into the future before funds are available for those “rapid transit options.”
Rapid transit is generally driven by population growth. It is clear from the Provincial Government initiative to weaken the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) how this will affect Delta. A weakened ALR puts South Delta farmlands at risk. In most parts of the world Agricultural land is at a premium. Obviously the present Provincial Government does not see it this way. As well, the CEO of Port Metro Vancouver, Robin Silvester, responded to these concerns by stating that we could “import our food.”
Why would any business person consider it prudent to rely on imports for our food needs? The South Delta farmlands have some of the best climatic conditions in Canada. The food grown here serves a large local population and shipping to this market is environmentally effective. We have a finite agricultural land base. We would be weakening our ability to be self reliant by reducing any of our agricultural lands, especially those in South Delta. If recent increases in food prices can be attributed to problems with agriculture in California, people should be able to see the need to protect our agricultural interests. Anything less does not serve our self interest, no matter how much PMV wants to create a “Gateway to the Pacific.”
The fly in the ointment
Lastly, why are the needs of Port Metro Vancouver driving the transportation planning process for the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD)? How is it that this federal crown corporation has the power to influence regional decisions of this magnitude without being made accountable?
As a federal crown corporation, the residents of Canada are PMV`s largest group of stakeholders. We need to ensure that PMV stays true to its Vision: “inspiring support from our customers and from communities locally and across the nation,” as well as their Mission Statement: “To lead the growth of Canada’s Pacific Gateway in a manner that enhances the well-being of Canadians and inspires national pride.”
If the community of Delta were polled about Port Metro’s various undertakings on the Fraser, the response would be very interesting. I very much doubt that “inspiring support and… national pride” or “enhancing the well-being of Canadians” would ring true for anyone in Delta.
Why are B.C. residents being asked to pay the price?
“As a port authority under the Canada Marine Act, Port Metro Vancouver is mandated to facilitate Canada’s trade, while ensuring environmental protection and safety.” Under the direction of CEO Robin Silvester they seem to be concentrating on the trade aspects and not the environmental protection or safety. Sadly, “facilitating Canada’s trade” appears to be headed in the direction of making B.C. residents pay for and live with second-rate transportation solutions. Surely, our Premier Christy Clark and her government can demand more than that from the Federal Government. As premier of this province her position should be to represent B.C. in Ottawa; not to present Ottawa’s position to B.C.
Contributed by Peter van der Velden, Facilities Management Consultant, Tsawwassen
November 25, 2015
- Premier Christy Clark, photographed in her Legislative Office. Photograph by Diana Nethercott. Victoria, BC-October 4, 2011. From Provincial website.
- Robin Silvester, CEO, Port Metro Vancouver. From PMV website.
Port Metro Vancouver’s Roberts Bank Container Terminal 2 Is Not Sustainable – It Must Never Be Built. Research Compiled by the Against
Port Expansion Community Group, and Prepared for Submission to the
Federal Government Environmental Assessment Review Panel
PDF DOWNLOAD: Port Metro Vancouver T2 Development Is Not Sustainable Nov 2015
Against Port Expansion Community Group