Surprising turn of events with Port of Vancouver re Fraser River dredging, Massey Tunnel

South Arm of the Fraser at Steveston

A scene along Fraser River near Steveston

On the headlined topic, we received the following compilation of materials from Susan Jones at the end of May 2017, and provide it for readers here, with permission. She quotes official documents and other materials obtained through FOI inquiry, and then provides her own insightful commentary which we indicate with blue italics.

The revelations described here undermine the provincial government’s “justification” for building the proposed new bridge over the Fraser to replace the Massey Tunnel. Implications are in the billions of dollars.

Two attachments:


Attached is a surprising Press Release from Port of Vancouver.

“The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority announced today that it has no plans to further deepen the Fraser River to accommodate larger vessels as it, together with existing marine terminal properties and port industrial lands, can sufficiently handle Canada’s trade for the foreseeable future.”

This is an astonishing turnabout from the Port of Vancouver as the Port worked with the BC Government for 3 years in planning the replacement of the George Massey Tunnel with a massive bridge.  Freedom of Information documents disclose communications about dredging the river and clearance requirements for larger shipping vessels up the south arm of the Fraser River.

Fraser Surrey Docks, which operates under the Port of Vancouver Authority, lobbied to get federal support for deeper dredging of the Fraser.  Jeff Scott, President and CEO of Fraser Surrey Docks, met with the federal Deputy Minister of Finance on February 28, 2013 to discuss expansion plans for Fraser Surrey Docks.  A Memorandum prepared for the Deputy Minister stated:

“Fraser Surrey Docks is currently operating below capacity.  Its location on the Fraser River limits it ability to service the larger, deep-draft vessels that are becoming the norm in container and bulk export markets…

Dredging Project

The company has developed a proposal providing for the large scale dredging of the Fraser River in order to accommodate larger vessels (dredging is limited to a depth of 13.5 metres due to the George Massey Tunnel that runs underneath the Fraser River).  The proposal was presented in late 2012 to the federal Ministers and officials including the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the Clerk of the Privy Council, and the Deputy Minister and Assistant Deputy Minister (Policy) at Transport Canada.  Fraser Surrey Docks recommends the costs of dredging (estimated at $180 million and $250 million over 5 years) be shared equally between the federal government, Port Metro Vancouver and the company.  … the port assumes that the existing tunnel will be replaced by a bridge or a deeper tunnel that would not constrain navigation.”

The Gateway Transportation Collaboration Forum also includes deeper dredging of the Fraser in their list of future projects.

The Gateway Transportation Collaboration Forum includes: Transport Canada, B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) Translink, Greater Vancouver Gateway Council (GVGC), and Port Metro Vancouver.


March 31, 2015          Report on:  Gateway Transportation Collaboration Forum website.  

Scrolled Page 17/49. EXCERPT:

Fraser River Channel Deepening Project

 Capital Dredge of the Fraser River to 12.8 m to the 34 km mark – A material enhancement project to increase the depth of the Fraser navigation channel, from km 0 to 34, from its current draft of 11.5 meters (m) tidal to 12.8 (m) tidal assist. – The Project will allow vessels currently calling the Fraser River to be loaded to their maximum capacity and to accommodate increased vessel draft for new growth opportunities and market demands.  Increases the capacity of the two navigational channels”

Potential Applicant: Fraser Surrey Docks LP* (* Private sector projects pending confirmation of public-sector partnership)
Estimated Capital Cost: $90 million
Development Status: Concept Design
Potential Beneficiaries: Port Metro Vancouver, Private Sector, Canada, Province, Metro Vancouver, municipalities


Discussions for dredging were included in communications with the BC Government, Transport Canada, the Port of Vancouver, Fraser Surrey Docks and provincial bureaucrats when they were meeting to plan the Massey Tunnel Replacement Project.   An email of September 20, 2012 discusses dredging the river from the mouth (Sands Head [Sand Heads]?) to the Fraser Surrey Docks to deepen the shipping channel from 11.5 meters to 12.5 meters.

Internal port emails of December, 2012, discuss sending information to the BC Government regarding plans for the new crossing.  The emails include information of the Port’s requests for clearance requirements for the new crossing:

“…we’d like to see a long-term vessel fleet forecast prepared to better inform clearance requirements for a new crossing….

…I think a reasonable starting point for discussion at this time is as follows:

Short version:
1). Tunnel – 15.5 to 18.5 m deep (invert of tunnel including ballast and/or protection rock)
2). Bridge – 322 m wide x 65 m high (sloped navigation envelope – see more detail below)

Slightly longer version:
1). Tunnel: Depth required is 15.5 m below geodetic datum for 50 year life expectancy and 18.5 m below for 100 year life expectancy….

Also, the Port of Vancouver sent a letter to the BC Ministry of Transportation, April 26, 2103, stating:

“The single biggest challenge to growing or even just maintaining these benefits is the George Massey Tunnel.  The current depth of the tunnel limits the maximum channel depth…With a continuing trend towards larger vessels in the shipping industry, the percentage of the total global fleet that can transit the river is decreasing.  Established terminals up the river of the Tunnel are already at risk of becoming obsolete as they are unable to accommodate these larger vessels… Similarly, the Tunnel deters new investment to expand or develop new marine terminals on vacant or underutilized industrial sites along the river…Replacing the tunnel with a new crossing that allows larger vessels to access industrial sites along the river would provide such support.”


The following is a blog and link to a Surrey Leader article on the Port’s Announcement.

26FridayMay 2017

Posted by Sandy James Planner

Port Says Deeper Fraser River not needed, time to Twin the Tunnel, Nix the Massey Bridge?

The timing of this announcement after the Provincial election is puzzling.As reported in the Surrey Leader the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority announced yesterday that despite everything that is being said-“they have no plans to deepen the Fraser River to accommodate larger vessels.”

In a strangely late announcement, the Port emailed the media stating that “the port authority recently completed an analysis of the river and its potential to accommodate increasing trade, that considered a variety of possible uses of existing port lands and assessed dredging the river at different depths, both with and without the removal of the George Massey Tunnel. The port authority’s analysis, completed in 2016, determined that deepening the Fraser River would be extremely costly, requiring extensive environmental study and consultation over many years.”

The study showed that with more use of the Port’s existing terminals  and further development of the port authority’s existing industrial lands along the water, the Fraser River will be well positioned to accommodate Canada’s growing trade without deepening the channel,” said Peter Xotta, vice president, planning and operations at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.

So if the existing tunnel is not a challenge for the Port’s development potential (despite the release of previous documents indicating that the future deeper draft is a consideration) and the existing tunnel is “not constraining the current development potential of the river” then why was the bridge the single-minded solution offered by the Provincial government?

The Port maintains a 36 kilometer long channel on the Fraser River’s south arm. Studies show that 2.5 to 3.5 million cubic meters of sediment is “deposited annually” in that part of the river and it is dredged in the lower reaches for flood protection ad flow capacity.

In this bridge/tunnel shell game is the plan to offer a twinning of the tunnel instead of the overbuilt multi-billion dollar bridge in exchange for the Port’s rapid industrial development of their 200 acres of properties along the Fraser?

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1 Response to Surprising turn of events with Port of Vancouver re Fraser River dredging, Massey Tunnel

  1. This is a very well written and detailed account which belies the integrity of the liberal government and the decisions and timing of decisions for the bridge. This explains why there is no viable business case for the bridge as a stand-alone infrastructure proposal for traffic/transit. The people of Vancouver and BC deserve a better planned answer to the issues of crossing the Fraser, dealing with single occupancy (SOV) vehicles, trucking and transit. These issues should be dealt with without interference from the Port of Vancouver. The notion that the Port should be responsible for infrastructure planning is a fallacy. Especially considering the current Board structure for the Port.

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