Bridging Troubled Waters: The Industrialization of the Fraser (by Peter van der Velden)

Gov BC image of bridge replacing George Massey Tunnel, from YouTube

Proposed bridge over the Fraser to replace the Massey Tunnel

(This article was contributed by Peter van der Velden. Other articles by him include the popular “The $3 billion hoodwink” of August 2014, and The bridge across the mighty Fraser: Vancouver infrastructure, federal funding and a provincial dilemma in November 2015.)

Bridging Troubled Waters: The Industrialization of the Fraser

Living in Delta and in Richmond there is a sense of being bowled over or overpowered by Port Metro Vancouver (PMV). PMV is a Federal Crown Corporation under the direction of President/CEO Robin Silvester. There are a number of projects planned for the Delta area that will negatively affect the local population and the environment of the Fraser River Delta. They are;

  • -Adding a second container terminal to the Roberts Bank
  • -Replacing the Massey Tunnel with a 10 lane bridge
  • -Bringing deeper hull ships up the Fraser River to the Fraser Surrey Docks
  • -Shipping larger quantities of (American) thermal coal from the Fraser Surrey Docks
  • -Adding facilities for the handling and shipping of LNG gas

Economic Development and Governance

It is clear that the Port Metro Vancouver impetus is from an economic development perspective. Well placed news editorials are constantly reminding us that we need “more industrial land” and “greater container capacity” and that when these needs are fulfilled everyone will benefit and many jobs created. It is obvious that the Provincial Government directly supports this. So far, the Federal Liberal Government appears to be supportive. In a recent response from The Honourable Marc Garneau MP, Minister of Transport he states that:

Canada Port Authorities must comply with the Canada Marine Act, other laws and regulations, and their individual letters patent.  The Act does not allow the government to direct Port Metro Vancouver; rather, section 20 of the Act makes the Board of Directors responsible for the management of the activities of Port Metro Vancouver.  

“I would therefore encourage you to make your views known directly to Port Metro Vancouver.”

Mr. Garneau is quite likely more than aware that our ‘views’ have been directed to PMV by many concerned and informed people with little more than minimal response.

Port Metro Vancouver Board of Directors

The Port Metro Board is made up largely of Industry Professionals only one of whom is chosen by the communities affected. Eight of the 11 board members are Federal Government appointees, seven of which are chosen in consultation with the Port user advisory committee. The eighth member is an appointee representing the provinces of Albert, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The board is heavily weighted to favour Port activity with really only one member ostensibly concerned with community issues. As such it is easy to see how community input is marginalized.


A lot of the information that PMV and the Provincial Government have made available regarding these projects has been questioned.  Environmental concerns have been marginalized and container traffic growth has not been accurately presented. Any public consultation has left the affected people feeling less than satisfied and unheard for ALL of the planned undertakings. This includes the planned bridge. The Provincial Government has not been forthright in the business case for the bridge. The only apparent reason for removing a tunnel that will be functional for decades to come is to allow deeper hull vessels up the Fraser River.

Two American ports have refused to handle thermal coal for environmental reasons. It is not clear why PMV has chosen to let this coal be shipped from the Fraser Surrey docks (FSD). FSD do not have a stellar environmental record and PMV has done nothing to ensure that they improve.

At this moment a state of emergency has been declared in California from a methane gas leak. The leak has been spewing the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide from 7 million cars DAILY into the atmosphere since October.

According to SoCalGas it will be 4 months before the storage facility can be capped to stop the leak. This is exactly the type of scenario depicted by research from the Pembina institute which states that 30% of gas losses in the LNG production chain will be lost at a terminal or handling facility. According to Pembina figures this could amount to 4 million tonnes of carbon pollution ANNUALLY affecting the Delta and Richmond areas, their farm production and wildlife.

Our new Federal Government and the REAL CHANGE directive

All of the PMV development plans will affect both the environment and the population of the Fraser Delta negatively. It is for these reasons that the Federal Government needs to review all of the Port Metro Vancouver undertakings from the REAL CHANGE perspective before any infrastructure funds are granted.

Massey tunnel replacement

The reason for the removal of the tunnel is the deepening of the Fraser River to allow deeper hull ships to reach the Fraser/Surrey Docks.

This involves not only the additional dredging of the river bottom, a $200 million one-time cost, it entails:

  • the removal of the Massey Tunnel which will be replaced by
  • a newly constructed 10 lane bridge
  • the removal/moving of a 30” water supply line under the Fraser

The Massey Tunnel is considered to be functional for decades to come. It is incredibly wasteful and unproductive to replace this piece of infrastructure. Have we seriously considered the alternative of maintaining the tunnel? This option offered no additional infrastructure in the original public consultation making it an unfeasible option.

The new bridge will be difficult and expensive to construct with the appropriate seismic safety, especially considering the height that PMV requires.  As well, the on-off ramps for Steveston and Ladner will be difficult to accommodate due to the height. As a result gas consumption will increase dramatically compared to the tunnel especially when traffic increases from the resulting urban sprawl. This is totally counterproductive to the goals set out by Canada at the Paris summit.

Liquified Natural Gas (LNG)

The proposed handling of LNG through a marine terminal in the Delta area. This will likely be located at Tilbury Island since the Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN) has wisely rejected this proposal for their industrial land.

The proposed height for the bridge is to accommodate the LNG ships to pass. Interestingly PMV now says it is also to handle cruise ships. Imagine that; mixing cruise ships with a toxic LNG terminal!

The handling of LNG has serious environmental consequences. We are told by Fortis that LNG cannot contaminate soil and water. This is misleading as any leak will negatively affect the air quality. To place this type of facility so close to the Steveston and Ladner populations is inviting not only disaster, it can be harmful on a day to day basis to all who live there. As well it will endanger all farm produce and stock in this area and all water fowl  and migratory birds in the Fraser Estuary.

The proposed Terminal 2 container port expansion

The expansion of Container Terminal traffic with the addition of Container Terminal #2 has many consequences.

  • The Fraser Delta, a highly regarded international Ramsar site for migratory birds will be compromised as will marine life. PMV has downplayed this aspect of their proposal at all turns.
  • Road traffic through the South and North Delta areas will once again be affected negatively. Better alternatives have been proposed in previous studies and reports, but not acted on.
  • There will be a loss of highly valued farmland to industrial use in the Richmond and Delta areas.
  •   This will seriously add to the Industrialization of the Fraser.

Thermal coal

The movement of 48 million tonnes of thermal coal from the USA through the Fraser Surrey docks.

This undertaking was opposed by many people and several city councils (among them Vancouver and New Westminster). As well it was refused by several West coast American ports for environmental reasons. Thermal coal is a soft coal shipped in open rail cars. It is a known fact that coal dust is lost to the atmosphere during shipping and during handling in the port.

No regulatory requirements such as those in place for the North Vancouver docks (handling sulfur) were put in place. In fact the Fraser Surrey docks have taken Metro Vancouver to court over environmental jurisdiction issues. Port Metro Vancouver has shown no interest in controlling their tenant by getting involved. As a result we have to assume that PMV has no agency that controls them or their tenants. We as citizens have no environmental protection from PMV or their actions.


There is an enormous opportunity for countries that invest in new, clean technologies. Companies around the world, with the support of governments, are finding solutions to the world’s environmental problems by integrating economic development and job creation with environmental performance. The new Liberal government has put into place a plan called REAL CHANGE; a plan for Canada’s environment and economy. This and a commitment to address climate change while at the Climate conference in Paris would suggest that Prime Minister Trudeau is committed to Real Change. The following directives and comment noted as parts of REAL CHANGE:


 “We will work with the provinces to set stronger air quality standards, creating incentives for investments that lead to cleaner air, healthier communities, and better quality of life for all Canadians. “

Please, let the REAL CHANGE initiatives protect the Fraser River!

The various assessments done for the PMV projects have never had an overall assessment of all projects as a whole. Each has been served singularly with no view to the larger picture. This is unacceptable for the Fraser, a world class Estuary recognized by the United Nations as a RAMSAR site of significance.

In order to live up to the commitments made in Paris the Canadian approach to our economy needs to be reviewed. A healthy and vibrant economy can be achieved with “smart growth”, environmentally wise principles.

Yes, this will require work and initiative. Let this initiative not only help our environment, let it drive our technologies. Let those technologies be marketed to the world with Canada as a leader!

Why, for instance, is PMV still allowing container ships into our harbours without hooking into shore power? Why are these ships still allowed to use their diesel driven power? Other harbours like LA have required this for some time and are ramping up these requirements as time goes on. As a result of this the ships that can’t fulfill these requirements are drawn to ports like PMV adding to our carbon footprint.


The proposals by PMV do not lead to the qualities described by the REAL CHANGE initiative. Until they can prove that they do, all proposals should be prioritized and reconfigured to suit the REAL CHANGE initiative. The Federal Government needs to direct the Crown Corporation of PMV to reassess previous directives. What this means is that undertakings like the Pacific Gateway need to have the appropriate environmental reviews (with REAL public dialogue) and be justifiable under the REAL CHANGE directives.

Dismantling the tunnel cannot be seen as an infrastructure investment. The tunnel has a significant possible longevity factor and has already been partially upgraded for seismic safety. Compared to the bridge, vehicle fuel usage will be substantially lower with the tunnel. Using the tunnel as a base, new traffic infrastructure can be planned to move traffic away from the existing Oak and Knight corridors. This would benefit a lot of Metro Vancouver. The present plan only expedites traffic across the Fraser River and negatively affects the rest of Metro Vancouver. At the exorbitant Provincial cost of $3.5 billion.

An alternative to the bridge needs to be a part of a planning process for Metro Vancouver. This bridge can only be considered a stop gap measure. In and of itself it will drive the need for more traffic infrastructure by putting more cars on the road.

This discussion should be as big as the Translink debate! The decision to remove the tunnel will affect everyone in the Metro Vancouver area. All of BC will be paying heavily to have a small portion of the population save on their daily commute over the Fraser. The essential issue here is that the province is willing to subsidize this small portion of vehicle traffic while cutting subsidies to the public transit system for all of Vancouver.

Get involved, inform yourself. Don’t count yourself in as one of the 51% that agrees with the bridge project. Write your Member of Parliament and your MLA! Show them you’re concerned about your tax dollar and the environment.

With quality of life, people thrive. When people thrive the economy will thrive.

“Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation.”

-Nelson Mandela


Peter van der Velden, Facilities Management Consultant, Tsawwassen

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1 Response to Bridging Troubled Waters: The Industrialization of the Fraser (by Peter van der Velden)

  1. Douglas George Massey says:

    Well done Peter. Real Change has to take place as soon as possible to save the people and the environment in the Fraser River Watershed. We cannot allow Port Metro and the Provincial government to destroy it unheeded.

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