A legal fight to stop the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority from allowing construction of a new coal-exporting facility is building momentum with two municipalities planning to join the court case.
Last month, environmental charity Ecojustice – representing two environmental groups and two concerned Surrey residents – filed an application in Federal Court seeking a judicial review of a port authority decision to permit the Fraser Surrey Docks direct transfer coal facility to proceed. Voters Taking Action on Climate Change and Communities and Coal, together with Christine Dujmovich and Paula Williams, want an order setting aside the port permit.
A few days after that application was filed, the City of New Westminster issued a press release stating it would seek intervenor status in the case. This week, the City of Surrey announced it would do the same.
"It's incredibly supportive. Our clients are pleased by these decisions," Ecojustice lawyer Karen Campbell said Wednesday.
She said a hearing date has not been set yet for the case and the port authority – which does business as Port Metro Vancouver – has not yet filed a reply to the Ecojustice application.
"We're still seeking to get disclosure of documents," she said.
Kevin Washbrook, a director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, said the support from municipalities shows there is broad public objection to the proposed facility, which would see an additional four million metric tonnes of coal shipped through the port.
"So now we have the City of New Westminster and the City of Surrey seeking leave to intervene, and I know other communities are interested as well," he said. "To me, it reinforces that something has seriously gone off the rails with the port authority decision around this particular project if not only citizens and grass-root groups, but now also municipalities, are saying they want the courts to quash it."
Mr. Washbrook said it's likely the courts will allow the municipalities to join the case.
"I can't imagine they wouldn't because, frankly, [the municipal governments] have more of an interest in this issue than we do," he said.
In its notice of application, Ecojustice says the port authority erred by failing to consider "changes to the environment that will be caused by the combustion of the coal that will be exported outside Canada."
It also says the port authority "failed to observe the principles of natural justice, procedural fairness and the rule against bias."
It says Ms. Dujmovich and Ms. Williams, the two Surrey residents who are party to the application, are "directly affected by the environmental and health impacts of the decision."
"New Westminster Council is extremely disappointed with this [permit] approval and the process leading to the decision," Mayor Wayne Wright said in a statement. "Due to New Westminster's close proximity to the proposed facility, we have serious concerns with respect to the environmental, health and safety risks that could result from this project."
In a report to Surrey Council, city solicitor Craig MacFarlane wrote that concerns have been raised about both the local and global environmental impacts of the project.
"These include concerns related to dust from train movements and coal-transfer operations, chemicals used in train cars and barges for dust suppression, soil and water contamination and risks related to fires, explosions, spills and collisions," Mr. MacFarlane said.
A spokesman for the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority could not be reached for immediate comment.