Threats mount as Govts of Canada & BC contravene and alter laws to permit destruction of lower Fraser River & Estuary – Article submission

The following extensive material was provided to MetroVanWatch by frequent contributor Peter Van Der Velden.

South Arm of the Fraser at Steveston*****

Threats mount as the Governments of Canada and British Columbia deliberately contravene and alter laws to permit devastating destruction of the lower Fraser River and Estuary in British Columbia

What remains of the Fraser Estuary is being threatened by development undertaken and proposed fort the benefit of the Port of Vancouver. Along the lower Fraser River, only 15–20% of the marsh, mudflats, eelgrass and river habitats of a century ago remain.

  • The Fraser, the world’s greatest salmon river, is in the top 50 Heritage Rivers in the world.
  • The estuary, critical habitat for fish and wildlife, is Canada’s largest wintering habitat for waterfowl and birds of prey.
  • As a part of the Pacific Flyway it serves as:

“An international crossroad of bird migration routes from 20 countries and three continents”.  (

  • The estuary is a regular foraging area for the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcas).
  • The Orcas depend on the Chinook Salmon from the Fraser for 90% of their diet.

Global significance and designations of the Fraser River

  • Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Site of Hemispheric Importance (highest designation)
  • Ramsar Site as a Wetland of International Importance
  • Listed by Birdlife International as an IBA (Important Bird and Biodiversity Area) in Danger

The Port of Vancouver is promoting numerous major industrial projects that will destroy this amazing, globally significant jewel. The Fraser River, the estuary and the Salish Sea are threatened by this industrialization.

The Governments of Canada and British Columbia collaborate with the Port of Vancouver on projects built on public and private lands. Tax dollars are used to provide the infrastructure servicing these projects.

$10 billion in federal, provincial and municipal tax dollars have been spent on infrastructure to serve the Port of Vancouver and vested interests. The Gateway Transportation Collaboration Forum is planning to spend another $10 billion tax dollars.

The Federal and Provincial Governments collaborate with the Port of Vancouver on major industrial developments and related infrastructure and then claim no authority with Port decisions.

Until 2008, Metro Vancouver’s ports were run by local authorities with port expertise and experience:

  • The ports were in the business of shipping and trade for the benefit of Canadians.
  • They were accountable to the public and the federal government.
  • They moved goods efficiently and were financially self-sufficient.
  • They had working relationships with local municipalities.
  • Then ……

The Harper Conservative Government placed the Metro Vancouver ports under ONE authority: now known as the Port of Vancouver. The Port of Vancouver is no longer about moving goods off and on ships in an efficient way.

In 2013, the Fraser River Estuary Management Program (FREMP), a plan by all levels of government and the public to ensure monitoring and protection of the river, was effectively terminated by the Harper Conservatives, who relinquished the program to the Port of Vancouver.

NOW… …

The Port is about building up real estate and assets, to lease to logistics and operations companies for profit.

And … …

It is about The Port and others buying up farmland, including land in the Agricultural Land Reserve,

NEWS RELEASE: BC Transportation Strategy supports industrial buyout plans for South Delta farmland                                    April 3, 2012

Delta, BC – Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington revealed today that an industrial consortium is behind the optioning of 558 acres (226 ha)of South Delta farmland for port-related use. Huntington’s office has uncovered $98 million in options on prime ALR farmland …Port-related corporations line CN Rail, CP Rail and Western Stevedoring are working with developers who are actively seeking prime land in the Agricultural Reserve,” says Huntington.

On July 21, 2016 Marc Garneau, Federal Minister of Transport stated:

“Canada Port Authorities are federally incorporated, autonomous, non-share corporations that operate at arm’s length from the federal government.  They are governed by boards of directors nominated by port user groups and various levels of government.  They operate according to business principles and have the authority and flexibility to determine strategic direction and make commercial decisions. In this context, the federal government has no power to direct or influence the actions of Canada Port Authorities.”

According to the Liberal Government’s declaration called Open and Accountable Government:

“A Minister is accountable to Parliament for the proper functioning of his or her department and all other organizations within his or her portfolio.”


“Crown corporations remain government organizations and instruments of government policy for which Ministers are ultimately accountable.”

Ultimately Mr. Garneau, the Minister of Transport, is responsible for The Port of Vancouver. And yet, the Port of Vancouver appears to be accountable to no-one.

As a result the Port of Vancouver was able to award itself a permit for the construction of a jet fuel facility which will result in Panamax sized tankers onto the Fraser River to deliver fossil fuel.

Richmond News February 5, 2016

“The Minister (of Transport Marc Garneau) was shocked at the timing. He was caught unaware and was extremely disappointed in the timing of the permit and was taken aback.”

Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido (Steveston–Richmond East) said “the Port has become unresponsive to community concerns since the Stephen Harper government granted near-autonomous powers in 2008….”

“Under Harper, the environmental process was gutted and The Port had authority to make those decisions.”

Kent Spencer, Vancouver Sun, April 14, 2016

When Prime Minister Trudeau ran for election the Liberal promise was to “immediately review Canada’s environmental assessment and…restore robust oversight” (Toronto Sun March 9 2017). The Natural Resources Minister has since admitted that all projects continue under the poor standards established by Harper rule.

“While the new Liberal government recently implemented interim measures for the environmental assessment process, existing projects…… will not be affected.”

Graeme Wood / Richmond News February 5, 2016.

The Governments of Canada and BC are abdicating responsibility for increased shipping on the river. As a result, the Port Industrial projects are being permitted in an unethical fashion with:

  • No independent credible environmental assessments
  • No meaningful public consultation
  • No regard for international safety standards
  • The Port is the permitting authority, yet claims no accountability beyond port footprint
  • Consequently no one is assessing environmental impacts of larger vessels on the Fraser River and the narrow shipping lanes to the Pacific

Major industrial projects are being forced on the public:

  1. Current LNG projects on the lower South Arm of the Fraser River
  • Expansion of Fortis BC Tilbury, Delta LNG
    from 5,000 Gigajoules to 450,000 Gigajoules per day

The BC Government quietly passed Orders in Council in 2013 and 2014 to permit this expansion, with no public input or environmental assessment.

  • LNG Terminal at Tilbury for export – WesPac Tilbury Marine Jetty

There is no federal environmental assessment, as a BC environmental assessment is being substituted.

Federal screening environmental assessment and BC environmental assessment. The  BC environmental assessment is considered ineffective legislation, with virtually no response to public concerns.

On May 7, 2015, the (unaccountable) National Energy Board of Canada approved a license for WesPac Midstream to annually export 3.5 million tonnes of LNG for 25 years.  The LNG will be provided from the FortisBC Tilbury LNG plant on the adjacent property.

In Canada, there appear to be no federal, provincial or municipal laws for locating hazardous industries. If they exist, they are not being enforced.

The LNG Terminal Project contravenes international and USA safety Standards, which state that LNG ports must be located where they do not conflict with other waterway uses, as all other vessels must be considered to be ignition sources. Think “COAL”, “JET FUEL”.

LNG has 600 times the volume of natural gas. An explosion of a LNG laden Panamax shipping vessel would be a disaster to the Greater Vancouver district.

US laws prevent the movement of LNG ships in narrow waterways close to communities. LNG production and export should not be permitted in this Tilbury Island location due to safety concerns on the site and along the narrow shipping route.  The Fraser River is too narrow to meet international and US standards.

The BC Wilderness Committee has created a colour-coded risk map of the Lower Fraser based on a US Coast Guard document that outlines “zones of concern” in the event of an LNG tanker accident:

Zone 1 is where an LNG spill could pose severe public safety and property hazard.

Zone 2 would be “less severe” in a wider hazard zone band up to 1.6 kilometres away.

Zone 3 would spread into Richmond and Ladner.  It is considered the maximum distance a cloud of escaped LNG vapour could drift without dispersing. If ignited, the cloud could burn back to the tanker and result in a “pool.”

  1. Current Jet Fuel projects on the lower South Arm of the Fraser River
  • February 24, 2016 – The Port of Vancouver issued a permit for construction of a terminal and 6 five-storey storage tanks to the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation.

The terminal and storage facility is in Richmond on the north side of the river, near Riverport and a local park.

The public and Richmond Member of Parliament Joe Peschisolido were horrified to learn that Canadian Minister of Transport Marc Garneau knew nothing about the Port of Vancouver permit that will bring supertankers and Aframax tankers to the South Arm of the Fraser for the first time in history.

As he did nothing and said nothing, it appears that the Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau, does not care that the facility is a safety risk located beside a park and close to public facilities.

Critics have claimed the environmental review of the Jet Fuel Terminal was flawed from the beginning, with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada and some nearby First Nations groups left out of the process.

  • No cumulative environmental effects assessment has been undertaken as required under Canada’s Environmental Assessment Act, Section 19.1 (a) and Section 5.
  • No transparency or accountability has been established
  • Community concerns have not been dealt with

A legal challenge in court by a citizens’ group failed, BUT the judge stated the public had been “constrained by the law and disengaged from the environmental process.”

Comments by Madam Justice Dillon, January 24, 2016

The tanker route will impact endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.

Any spill will impact 80 species of fish, including the largest sockeye salmon run in the world, as well as migratory birds and listed species such as the Great Blue Heron, White Sturgeon and Eulachon. Noise from these ships is also a concern.

  1. Current Coal shipments on the Fraser River

Export of US dirty coal from Fraser Surrey Docks

Fraser Surrey Docks plans to construct a Direct Transfer Coal Facility to ship up to 8 million tonnes of American Thermal Coal through BC annually, making BC the largest coal exporter in North America.

This project should have triggered a federal environmental assessment by review panel due to the high level of public concern and potential irreversible environmental impacts to fish, wildlife, air quality and water quality.

No proper environmental assessment was undertaken, again, just a Port of Vancouver permit.

The assessment by review panel did not happen because of major changes to environmental assessment and protection legislation by the Conservatives. As a result, the Port of Vancouver changed from just a proponent of projects to a position of power to approve its own projects.

The plan was to barge the coal down the Fraser River past the municipalities of New Westminster, Burnaby, Delta and Richmond to Texada Island to be unloaded and then later reloaded onto large ocean-going vessels.  This plan has changed. On November 15, 2015, Port Metro Vancouver issued a project permit amendment to allow for the direct loading of coal onto ocean-going vessels at the Surrey Docks.

The numerous projects planned for the Fraser River will require larger shipping vessels on the river, including Panamex oil tankers, Aframax tankers and LNG carriers.

To facilitate these large vessels, governments and vested interests want to remove the George Massey Tunnel. This tunnel was seismically upgraded in 2006 and is reported to be good for another 50 years or more.

  1. Replacement of the Massey Tunnel with a ten lane bridge

Clear Freedom of Information evidence shows that: The Port wants the tunnel gone.

AND                     They want to dredge the river deeper (for as much as 34 km upriver).

AND                       They want the high, expensive bridge so that large vessels can travel upriver.

AND                     They want to double the number of container trucks crossing The Fraser.

AND                     They want public tolls to pay for the $3.5 billion cost of the bridge.

(The Port Mann bridge has proven that this could be problematic.)

“The bridge has got everything to do with Port Metro Vancouver’s plans to industrialize the Fraser,” says Richmond Councillor Harold Steves.

Proposed new Steveston interchange and bridge “go against 40 years of regional planning,” says Richmond mayor.

  1. Current expansion proposal to the existing container Terminal 1 at Roberts Bank

Because container traffic has decreased, the Port of Vancouver has redirected its future plans to encompass “The Port of Vancouver 2050 strategy”. In doing this they have expanded port statistics and forecasts in order to build assets such as Container Terminal 2 at Roberts Bank in the estuary:

  • An artificial island and expanded causeway, it would fill in 445 acres of aquatic ecosystem in the environmentally sensitive and globally significant Fraser River Estuary in order to increase container capacity.
  • The Port of Vancouver has never presented a credible feasibility study or cost/benefit analysis.

The Government of Canada has set up a Port of Vancouver board of 11 appointed directors. It represents business and industry, with only one token appointee for the municipalities. A representative seldom (if ever) seen in Delta. Her name would be unfamiliar to most Deltans and not likely known any better in Richmond.

  • The majority of the directors appear to be in conflict of interest, as they represent vested shipping interests.
  • The board is operating with greater powers than those of democratically elected governments.

Vancouver Fraser Port Authority CEO Robin Silvester has stated that:

“Agriculture is emotionally important, but economically [of] relatively low importance to the Lower Mainland.
And in terms of food security, [it] is almost meaningless for the Lower Mainland.”

This shows just how out of touch this Federal Crown Corporation is with its communities. Both the Delta and Richmond farm community would question this logic. Especially with a constant decrease in Global agricultural land.

In the “Port 2050 Process” and the 2016 AGM Mr. Silvester stated that; “we are absolutely committed to developing and maintaining good working relationships with our neighbours, and are spending an extraordinary amount of time engaging those who may be impacted by port operations. Port Authorities have a complex mandate that requires us to protect the environment and consider the interests of local communities.” He has also “emphasized the importance of dialogue with community in order to build up a land-use strategy”.

Sadly his words and actions are contradictory. When approached at public meetings about this Mr. Silvester has had no comment. It is pretty clear that the Port Authority mandate to community is not being met.

It is clear the current Trudeau Liberal Government supports all these projects and has yet to address any public concerns.

What can be done?

The Government of Canada needs to act immediately to:

  • Restore and strengthen Canadian legislation.
  • Terminate the mandate of the Port of Vancouver
    and ensure federal accountability.
  • Replace The Port board with non-industry, community based directors
  • Place a moratorium on the mega projects in the Fraser River Delta/Estuary.
  • Initiate a cumulative environmental effects assessment of past, current, and planned projects in the Fraser River Delta/Estuary as required under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
  • Develop a plan and legislation to protect the health of the Fraser River Delta/Estuary in perpetuity.


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