Climate solutions vs government actions, Part II: Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s T2 expansion proposal for Delta Container Port (by Peter van der Velden)

This is the second in a series of three articles on the environment and how our governments are failing to protect our interests. This article discusses the environmentally damaging issues of the expansion proposals to the Delta container terminal by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (VFPA). The third article will cover the continuing government support for hazardous industry and the financial and environmental consequences and costs that affect all of us in BC.

CLIMATE SOLUTION VS GOVERNMENTS ACTIONS, PART II: VFPA EXPANSION PROPOSAL FOR THE DELTA CONTAINER PORT. (by Peter van der Velden)

Above: Proposed man-made island housing T2 expansion proposal

GOVERNMENT OBFUSCATION AND GOVERNMENT FAILURE TO ACT

For almost 20 years, the VFPA along with the Federal government has been planning the expansion of the container terminal in Delta. This is all a part of a plan to create a vanity port called the “Gateway to the Pacific” and was meant to attract and handle our trade with Asia.

Sadly, in that time, the shipping industry has moved on. Finances are always the driver and it is more economical to ship products from Asia to the Port of Prince Rupert.

Little has changed to the plans for the VFPA expansion in order to adjust to changes in the industry. Part of this is due to the fact that the two port authorities are independent jurisdictions. Other issues are the boards that ‘govern’ ports and the failure of the Federal government to take responsibility over port actions.

A major issue to date at the Federal level was the decision to not allow a damaging assessment from Environment Canada (ECCC) for closing comments to the public inquiry. The ECCC scientists concluded: “Project-induced changes to Roberts Bank constitute an unmitigable species-level risk to western sandpipers, and shorebirds more generally,” and the only way to avoid the impacts “is with a project redesign.” 6).

THE ECONOMY, THE SHIPPING INDUSTRY AND A FAILING BUSINESS CASE

Due to the fact that the VFPA has never met its projections of container terminal growth, the business case for the proposal is flawed. The VFPA argument that T2 is the answer to the global supply chain is also highly questionable. 9).

The cost to construct this terminal will include the cost to build a man-made island. With a projected total construction cost that has risen from $2Billion to $3.5Billion it will be difficult for this terminal to be competitive.

The shipping time to the Port of Prince Rupert (PRPA) from Asia is two days shorter. As well, the cross-Canada shipping costs are lower from Prince Rupert. As a result, the only growth to the container shipping industry in Vancouver is for local products. This makes the VFPA proposals unnecessary, unnecessarily large and unnecessarily expensive.

Contrary to past VFPA claims, Prince Rupert is expanding their facilities and is capably handling the container growth coming its way. As VFPA projections have never been met, it seems unreasonable to continue planning an expansion of this size to the Delta terminal.

The VFPA CEO, Robin Silvester, continues to claim the port will not cost the taxpayer a penny. In the meantime, the port has spent tens of millions of dollars on the plans thus far. As well, it has made several attempts to find an operator for the new terminal. So far, the VFPA has failed to secure a willing operator. This is probably because it will be difficult for a second terminal to be competitive with the immense capital outlay required

Surely this will mean Mr. Silvester is incorrect, and continued subsidies to the shipping industry will be required for an indefinite period of time should this terminal be built.

T2 THE ENVIRONMENT, ROBERTS BANK AND SPECIES AT RISK

In the past, major infrastructure decisions have been based on economic factors such as trade and jobs. This is the primary reasons we are in a climate crisis. Our prime minister has made a lot of statements about the need-for, and Canada’s resolve-to deal with climate issues. 1). Sadly, this particular process has sidestepped a number of environmental requirements. As a result, there is serious concern that the Federal government will give the go-ahead to build this island.

As it is, the federal review panel final report recognized 72 serious environmental issues that needed “mitigation.” Mitigation was an accepted way to deal with the environment in the past. Again, this is one of the reasons we are in a climate crisis.

Mitigation does not work. There is never enough staffing or finance to carry out mitigation measures, nor the appropriate monitoring to secure success. The reason for this is that mitigation is after the fact. The damage has been done. Mitigation should no longer be acceptable in a “Climate Crisis.” If we are serious about concern for the environment wee need to do better!

Proposals such as the T2 proposal need to be seen/planned through a stronger environmental lens. The economics and employment benefits need to come after the environment is secured. Certainly, if there are 72 mitigation issues -some of which affect species at risk or endangered- this project needs to be re-assessed. The risks are too high.

THE ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT PROCESS

When the prime minister was elected in 2016, he promised to overhaul the environmental requirements of the assessment process. He also stated he was going to invest in new energy technology. In all honesty very little of this has happened.

As well, the environmental assessment process has been diminished. Projects are allowed to be split avoiding the legal requirement of a complete and cumulative effects assessment. Never has the VFPA been required to do a full environmental assessment of any of the projects undertaken on the Fraser River. Will they allow the environmental considerations kill this project? It seems highly unlikely. This begs the question; has or is the EAO process become politicised?

It is quite clear that the federal government has allowed the EAO process to be weakened, not strengthened as promised.

OUR INTERNATIONAL COMMITMENTS

Canada has made many international commitments and agreements to protect our wetlands and endangered species/species at risk. 4). 5).

The proposed T2 project puts Roberts Bank at risk and many species will be negatively -and heavily- affected. The most egregious is the endangerment of the shorebirds from the loss of biofilm. Many of the shorebirds are a part of the Pacific flyway. 6). As such they require stops like the Roberts Bank to “refuel” for their travels. The biofilm is high in Omega fats that allow the birds to store up energy for their continuing flight. By allowing the degradation of the biofilm we are putting species at risk and ignoring our international commitments. Environment Canada has stated that:

“There exists considerable uncertainty around the possibility that loss of productive biofilm habitat could be mitigated by the large-scale re-creation of biofilm habitat capable of supporting shorebirds, including appropriate bottom sediment characteristics and salinity conditions”. 7).

FAILURE OF OUR POLITICAL SYSTEM

Many people (16,000) and groups have been opposed to this project due to the environmental issues/costs. MP’s, MLA’s and party leaders have been contacted to no avail. If any response has been garnered it has been a referral to the ministry responsible. Several MP’s have held that position and the answers have been the same. This is somewhat along the line of ‘We’re doing our due diligence, let the process run its course.’ This, of course, brings on the fear that once it has ‘run its course’ it will be too big to fail.

In the meantime, Robin Silvester continues to speak with the chambers of commerce and business associations to let them know that this project will serve them and their business well. He has steadfastly refused to speak with groups like ‘Citizens against port expansion’. This while they claim that:

“A sustainable port delivers economic prosperity through trade, maintains a healthy environment, and enables thriving communities through collective accountability, meaningful dialogue and shared aspirations.” 8).

To those concerned, there has been no ‘dialogue.’ By not accepting/allowing the ECCC closing statement the federal review panel is incomplete and incorrect. Years of asking for an independent peer review of the VFPA science has fallen on deaf ears.

The T2 expansion proposal is expensive and unnecessary and will cost the tax-payers of Canada money while being an environmental disaster waiting to happen. It can be avoided: It does not need to be built.

As long as our governments and government agencies fail to act on our Climate Crisis, we will be part of the problem and not a part of the solution.

1). https://thenarwhal.ca/topics/justin-trudeau-climate-change-canada/

2). https://iaac-aeic.gc.ca/050/documents/p80054/134506E.pdf

3). https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/oil-change-subsidies-1.6228679

4). https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/species-risk-act-accord-funding/act-description.html

5). https://nawcc.wetlandnetwork.ca/Federal%20Policy%20on%20Wetland%20Conservation.pdf

6). https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Generalized-migration-paths-of-five-focal-species-within-the-Pacific-Americas-Flyway_fig1_316991542

7). https://iaac-aeic.gc.ca/050/evaluations/proj/80054/contributions/id/56833

8). https://www.portvancouver.com/about-us/vision-mission/

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