Skip to main content

Gantry cranes are used to unload cargo containers from the Yang Ming Upsurgence container ship docked at Global Container Terminals Deltaport, in Delta, B.C., in this file photo from July 15, 2019.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The operator of a B.C. shipping-container terminal says its expansion plans are superior to what a federal agency is proposing, citing Canada’s need to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption to global supply chains.

GCT Global Container Terminals Inc. is urging federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson to support a regulatory process to review GCT’s expansion project instead of only considering one proposed by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, a federal transport agency.

The port authority has been locked in a fight against GCT – one of its tenants – over how best to expand container capacity at Deltaport, located 30 kilometres south of Vancouver. The port authority’s proposed expansion project is called Roberts Bank Terminal 2 while GCT’s rival proposal is Deltaport 4, named after its plan to add a fourth berth to its existing terminal.

Marko Dekovic, GCT’s vice-president of public affairs, said Deltaport 4 makes economic sense because it would be the right-sized project for fluctuations in long-term shipping demand, compared with the overly optimistic outlook of the port authority for global trade through Terminal 2.

“There are predictable patterns that can be used for forecasting supply and demand in global container trade. Then there are sudden shifts, so-called black swan events that bring unforeseen, rapid change,” Mr. Dekovic said in a March 27 letter to Mr. Wilkinson. “We are weathering such changes now, with the global coronavirus pandemic.”

The port authority has warned that Canada’s West Coast could run out of capacity to handle container shipments by 2025, but GCT disagrees with that outlook, noting the long-term uncertainty caused by COVID-19. “Based on current forecasts, additional capacity in B.C. won’t be needed until the 2030s, at the earliest,” Mr. Dekovic said.

A three-member panel of the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, formerly known as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, publicly released a 627-page report on Monday into Terminal 2. The panel made 71 recommendations to mitigate impacts on wetlands, aquatic species and other areas.

While the panel warned about the environmental impacts, it also pointed to Terminal 2′s economic benefits. “The purpose of the project is consistent with Canada’s role as a trading nation, and the project would enable an increase in container terminal capacity on Canada’s West Coast,” according to the panel’s report.

The port authority welcomed the report. “We are eagerly awaiting the next steps in the environmental assessment, which includes a decision from the government of Canada on whether the project can proceed,” the port authority said in a statement.

Charlotte Dawe, conservation and policy campaigner at the Wilderness Committee, said in a news release that Terminal 2 would have harmful effects, including on “wetlands, barn owls, Dungeness crab, chinook salmon and southern resident killer whales."

She added that the panel’s report “highlights many First Nation traditional territories that overlap with the project and outlines risks to current use and cultural heritage resources.”

In a statement on Tuesday, GCT chief executive officer Doron Grosman said the port authority hasn’t been a good landlord in refusing to take GCT’s private-sector solution seriously. He said Terminal 2 would be a massive construction project, compared with Deltaport 4′s gradual, phased-in approach to expanding an existing facility.

Depending on final engineering designs, the port authority estimates Terminal 2 would cost between $2-billion and $3-billion, while GCT’s budget ranges from $1-billion to $1.6-billion for its Deltaport 4.

“British Columbia will need container port capacity that appropriately responds to the needs of exporters, consumers and the ocean-shipping industry,” Mr. Grosman said. “The Deltaport berth 4 expansion is the only project that is nimble enough to do this – it is incremental, privately funded and environmentally less damaging.”

The port authority said Terminal 2 would be “needed to manage Canada’s growing demand for imported goods and containerized exports,” but Mr. Grosman criticized GCT’s landlord for thwarting expansions plans for Deltaport 4.

Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and Australia-based IFM Investors each own 37.5 per cent of GCT, while B.C. Investment Management Corp. holds a 25-per-cent stake.

Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.