(This article is by Peter van der Velden, who has contributed several previous articles, including the popular “The $3 billion hoodwink: George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project” of August 2014, and “Bridging Troubled Waters: The Industrialization of the Fraser” in February 2016. He was one of the first to see through the smoke and see what is going on with this project.)
Thought we had heard everything we could about the bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel? Think again!
A transportation plan for the Greater Vancouver area was started as early as 1994. It was set up by an industry-led organization of senior executives from seaports, airport, carriers and other companies engaged directly in the Gateway Transportation business.
Reference (download): Mandate Greater Vancourver Gateway Council 1994
Neither community input, safety nor the environment were considered*. In the quest for jobs both senior levels of government have forsaken social issues close to the heart of the electorate. This bridge is not a bridge to serve transit infrastructure; this is a bridge to allow the industrialization of the Fraser River. It does so by the removal of the George Massey tunnel.
As pressure is brought to bear on the Liberal plan to build this bridge, the spin coming from Victoria changes according to the criticism levied at the plan. The most recent comments from Todd Stone, Minister for transportation and Infrastructure is that “Port Metro Vancouver” (recently renamed “Port of Vancouver”) is NOT driving the decision for the bridge. This statement is completely negated through a recent FOI request. The height of the bridge is driven by the desire of the Port of Vancouver to get LNG ships under the span. Previous transportation plans indicated twinning the tunnel (with a 2 lane tube) was preferable to a bridge and more cost effective. If that was the case why is the tunnel being dismantled if not to let deeper hull vessels up the South Fraser River?
Robin Silvester, CEO of Port of Vancouver recently stated that there were no plans to dredge the Fraser River. Oddly this belies the fact that he has lobbied the Harper government multiple times to subsidize dredging the Fraser. The dredging would deepen the Fraser to make the Fraser Surrey docks (a tenant of Port of Vancouver) a deep sea port. This is made clear by the Pacific Gateway Strategy Action Plan (see link). The plan shows that this has been a part of the Port development strategy since 2006.
Information acquired through Freedom of Access to Information reveals that the Port of Vancouver clearly wants the Massey Tunnel removed.
“The tunnel is also a marine bottleneck. It was not designed for the size of ships used in modern day trade, which must access the Fraser River in Richmond and Surrey. As a result, the tunnel is becoming a significant obstacle to international trade on the Fraser.”
(Robin Silvester, CE0, Port Metro Vancouver: Vancouver Sun, April 29, 2012)
The Port of Vancouver made it clear to the government that plans should include air drafts to accommodate large ships:
“Liquid bulk tankers with larger air draft requirements (e.g. LNG) should be considered,”
(Port Development Strategies Manager, Jennifer Natland, Nov. 29, 2012 to Project Planners)
If the Port of Vancouver is not driving these decisions why are they so at odds with any real traffic infrastructure planning? The required height of the bridge presents major challenges. It makes access to Ladner and the Steveston highway very difficult. As well the support for the towers becomes very expensive. This could be avoided and makes no sense if only traffic issues were driving this decision.
The structure of the towers will be difficult to install while the tunnel is in place. This fact recently came to light when their required height was raised by Port of Vancouver. This will turn highway 99 into a construction bottleneck for an indefinite period. What seems to be forgotten is that this is the second busiest access road into Vancouver. Commerce and commuters alike will be hamstrung with delays and undoubtedly re-routed to the Alex Fraser Bridge.
As recent as 2006 the tunnel was deemed to be safe and sound for many more years. With that understanding a $20 million seismic upgrade was completed to the tunnel. The government stated all that was needed was “additional seismic upgrading”. This additional upgrade was priced and planned for but not carried out. Now that there is a plan for the bridge, the tunnel is considered obsolete, unsafe and the seismic upgrading too expensive.
Delta CAO George Harvie was recently quoted as saying “any kind of seismic problem could ruin the current tunnel”. What he failed to mention was this: Any earthquake strong enough to “ruin the tunnel” would also destroy the highway leading to it. As well, any over-passes and crossings of the Lower Fraser Valley delta would be at peril.
Douglas Massey is the son of George Massey whose name is on the tunnel. Mr. Massey’s research shows a Dutch company specializing in tunnels was contacted by the Provincial government. A team member from this firm was emphatic that a plan to twin the tunnel was not seriously developed. How then can a decision costing Billions of dollars have been made without a clear assessment of this alternative?
The facts remain: All of this is a part of the larger Pacific Gateway Strategy Action Plan.
The plan is comprehensive and large parts of it are complete. Billions of dollars have been spent on the following projects: The Port Mann Bridge, the Golden Ears Bridge, the Deltaport third berth, the South Fraser Perimeter road and numerous others. For Mr. Silvester or Mr. Stone to suggest that the bridge is not being driven by the Port of Vancouver is just not true. Community input was never seriously sought and appears to be irrelevant. Todd Stone is the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure. In recent presentations he has refused any questions regarding aspects of the bridge. What the MoT has done instead is issue a bulletin called “debunking the Massey replacement myths.
One of the “facts” states that: “The project will…… remove 9,000 tonnes of greenhouses gas each year”.
Adding traffic to the existing traffic will only add to our greenhouse gasses. By not addressing the Oak and Knight street corridors more greenhouse gasses will be added. Waiting and idling times will only be increased. This is only the beginning. If the Fraser is industrialized as planned our greenhouse gasses will increase exponentially.
For a debunking of the Provincial Government “debunking” see Pat Johnstone’s blog: https://patrickjohnstone.ca/2016/04/myths-and-lies.html
3. SPINNING, SPINNING, SPUN
Geoff Freer, project manager for the bridge recently made a presentation to the Richmond council. In that meeting he stated that there would be no loss of farmland. In fact he said there would be a gain in farmland. These comments were reiterated by Robin Silvester, CEO for the Port of Vancouver. The justification so angered the Richmond council that they changed their support for the bridge and specified that they preferred to keep the tunnel.
The government has stated that 59% of tunnel traffic goes to Richmond, not Vancouver. The validity of the ‘Blue Tooth Technology’ used has been questioned. Cars not equipped with this technology could not be counted. Not that it matters, it is truly a moot point. The bottleneck at both the Oak Street and Knight Street corridors are already problematic. By constructing a 10 lane bridge, Delta will be opened to urban sprawl. This will create additional commercial and passenger traffic to and from Vancouver. As a result these two corridors will only become busier. Yet this “plan” does not deal with this particular issue. No alternatives to these two traffic impediments have been considered. How can this be considered planning for the future? Is it any wonder that all the Metro Mayors (minus Mayor Jackson of Delta) are questioning the wisdom of this plan?
What is truly amazing is that the Mayors of Metro Vancouver are not fighting this issue tooth and nail. I can only assume the reason is that we DO need a better crossing at the Fraser. By being against “the bridge” we are delaying any improvement. However, this “plan” really only deals with crossing the Fraser. The lack of planning shows that overall traffic infrastructure is of no interest to the provincial government.
What needs to be made very clear is that the Port of Vancouver is in a conflict of interest. The port makes money from fees, leases and rentals and has no interest in limiting its operations. In response Mr. Silvester has made the following statement: “To suggest some inherent self-interest is influencing the authority’s permitting decisions, or that those decisions are not based on thorough environmental assessment, is failing to recognize the port authority’s federal mandate and obligations”. This is in-fact exactly what is at question. Mr. Silvester and/or the Port board appear to be beyond Federal scrutiny. The Port appears to have but one interest and that is to industrialize the Fraser River. In doing so it appears to have no regard for the social or environmental consequences.
4. VISIONS SPUN
We are being subjected to Mr. Silvester’s vision through a board that is an unelected and unaccountable body. Where the board is in all this is a big question. Is the board driving Mr. Silvester or is Mr. Silvester driving the board? The board community representatives have never been heard from. Eight of the 11 board member are Federal Government appointees, seven of which are chosen in consultation with the Port user advisory committee.
Compare the lofty Vision of the Port of Vancouver:
“Inspiring support ….from communities locally and across the nation,”
… and 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”.
… to the current reality. A part of the Pacific Gateway Plan was to “engage communities”. One way to achieve this was through a questionnaire. The questionnaire was a one-way stream of port information. This was given to participants at a convention of BC municipalities. Only 28% of participants responded. This is no surprise as there was no dialogue. No interest was expressed in community input. So much for community engagement or “inspiring support”.
What is being sold is a vision of the economy driven by industry and hammered home with the promise of jobs. The loss of farmland, the environment and communities were not considered. The process shows a serious lack of appropriate infrastructure planning. How else do we get a 3.5 million dollar decision without any record of the decision process? Misrepresentations of our Provincial and Federal representatives are more than by-products. It is a given that transparency is not public entitlement. Our Crown Corporation is used as a shield for the Federal MP’s and their responsibilities. The port has been given powers reaching well beyond its mandate. Under “roles and responsibilities” on the port website it states:
Infrastructure development to support growth and efficient operations, including collaboration with government and others on projects beyond port lands.
5. THE REALITY
What exactly does the “projects beyond port lands” cover? How is it that an expensive, short-term, partial traffic fix can be driven by Port of Vancouver? The terms “efficiency” and “collaboration” need to be considered for the community in order to be meaningful and effective. The bridge does not serve Metro Vancouver. It does not serve Richmond or Delta. The bridge only serves the Port of Vancouver and commuters south of the Fraser going as far as Richmond.
Recently the Federal Government has been asked by the Metro Vancouver Board to insist on an environmental assessment of the bridge. Such an assessment would require the assessment of all undertakings on the Fraser, something the ‘Port of Vancouver’ has refused to do. This would include; Roberts Bank Terminal 2 expansion, the Vancouver Airport Fuel Delivery Project, the WesPac Tilbury LNG terminal for the exporting of LNG, the direct transfer coal facility at the Fraser Surrey docks, as well as the removal of the tunnel, the subsequent deeper dredging of the Fraser and the construction of the bridge.
It is obvious that these projects really will industrialize the Fraser River. With the exception of the LNG terminal all of these are direct proposals of the ‘Port of Vancouver’. They are also parts of the “Pacific Gateway Plan”. This plan is all about the development of serving trade with Asia.
All of these undertakings will critically affect the ecology of the Fraser estuary and river. This fact is being ignored by the Provincial and Federal Governments. Both levels of government are satisfied with a piecemeal approach to environmental assessments. The Federal Government states that it is “unfair” to require proponents to restart environmental assessments. Even while admitting these may have been flawed under the Harper government. The agreement with the Paris accord should require higher environmental standards. However, this does not appear to be the case for the Fraser River. The “proponent” for these undertakings is the Port of Vancouver. As a Federal Crown Corporation, the port needs to be held to a higher standard. A full environmental assessment of all port undertakings including the proposed bridge should be required.
While considering Port of Vancouver activities we need a review of the Board of Directors. It is clear that the Board is industry driven and not community driven. The sole speaker for the port is Mr. Silvester. A Community and Corporate Social Responsibility committee exists and is never heard from. There is no community presence other than an office in Ladner. One community representative contacted was clear: Little credence was given to feedback. The community liaison committee seemed little more than an exercise. A legislated/ required meeting with representatives with no apparent value or outcome.
It is time for an elected board that represents the communities the Port most affects rather than the corporations that it serves.
Sadly the Municipality of Delta has been swept up by senior levels of government and is in agreement. At a cost of $16,000 Mayor Jackson and CAO George Harvey traveled to Norway in 2013. The Delta delegation was invited by Robin Silvester to visit port facilities and meet industry representatives. Undoubtedly they were persuaded that the vision of Port of Vancouver would serve Delta.
The bridge will completely change the nature of the community Mayor Jackson governs. She has waved off the environmental and social implications as “myths”. Mayor Jackson remains the only Mayor in support of the bridge.
We can do better than this! We deserve co-operative planning with communities to get the infrastructure that supports a strong city. If it improves our harbor, great! However, let’s be clear; transit planning should not be done for the needs of the Port of Vancouver. Such myopic outlook doesn’t serve any of the Metro communities. If this bridge is built we will be spending much more money to rectify our transit needs. Lastly, these are the same people that missed the South Fraser Perimeter Road budget by more than 100%. If this is any indication of their planning ability the Bridge will cost a lot more than $3,500,000,000.
If you feel strongly about more positive transit planning and community involvement, get involved! Write or contact your MLA and MP. Let them know you’re not happy with the decision to build this bridge!
* “While there are other considerations, such as safety and environmental concerns, the proposed MCTS (Major Commercial Transportation System) was only evaluated on the economic benefits of proceeding with the proposed investments versus the consequences of inaction for the Regional and Western Canadian economies.”
See also: http://www.againstportexpansion.org/
Peter van der Velden, Facilities Management Consultant, Tsawwassen
If you have an opinion on this topic, write your MLA (use this official MLA finder), the ministry of transport (Minister.Transportation@gov.bc.ca), and Premier Christy Clark (email@example.com), and talk to your municipality’s rep on the Board of Metro Vancouver (municipality links here, Metro director list here).