Skip to main content

The Fraser Surrey Docks, shown here, are under the jurisdiction of Port Metro Vancouver, which will decide whether or not to approve a proposal to expand coal exports to four million tonnes annually.

Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson has tabled a motion asking city staff to report back on a potential bylaw "to prevent the expansion of, or creation of new, coal export infrastructure within the City of Vancouver" and recommends that a copy of the motion be sent to all the municipalities of Metro Vancouver.

It is the most recent advancement in tensions throughout Metro Vancouver over a proposal made last November to expand the export capacity of the coal terminal already operating at the Fraser Surrey Docks to four million tonnes annually, eventually undergoing a second expansion to eight million tonnes annually. Final approval the project lies solely with Port Metro Vancouver, the federal authority responsible for the Surrey Fraser Docks.

Though a municipal bylaw in Vancouver would have no influence over the final outcome of the proposal in Surrey, Vancouver city councilor Andrea Reimer said that it is intended to pre-empt any future proposals for coal export infrastructure expansion within Vancouver's city limits.

The motion adds Vancouver to a growing list of Metro Vancouver municipalities trying to pressure PMV to slow the approval process for the expansion in Surrey and undertake much broader environmental and public health assessments.

"It's clear that people are concerned about what impacts more coal exports will have on the environment, and also potential health hazards from coal being transported to the docks by train," said Ms. Reimer.

The expansion would require much larger trains, some up to 135 cars long, to accommodate the increased volume of coal going to the Fraser Surrey Docks. The trains would pass through White Rock, Delta and Surrey on their way from the United States, and residents are worried about the health implications of more 'coal dust' in the air.

Duncan Wilson, vice president of corporate social responsibility at PMV, says it's unclear why residents are only voicing health concerns now. "We've been moving coal through this port since the 1960's, and it's been our largest commodity throughout all of that time. So the community concern around this is relatively new and there are practices in place to address the kind of issues that are being raised now," Mr. Wilson said.

Despite assurances from PMV that the public will be heard, Delta, White Rock and New Westminster will all review options to make information more readily available as citizen groups have criticized what they view as a lack of public consultation on the project.

"The public has no input into PMV's decision. It's an entirely closed loop," said Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, a community group opposed to the expansion project.

"This is the 21st century right? We're passed the time when the captains of industry sit behind closed doors and make these decisions for our future. It's got to change."

Mr. Washbrook said that Vancouver's motion for a bylaw banning coal export infrastructure was "symbolically important" for Metro Vancouver residents opposed to the project and he hopes it will pressure Surrey city officials to consider a similar option.

Surrey mayor Dianne Watts will meet with city council on Monday to review a new report outlining the city of Surrey's concerns with the project and wants to ensure that the city's concerns are dealt with, but is not as quick to condemn the expansion at Fraser Surrey Docks, noting that their will likely be benefits to the city.

"It's all well and good to say, 'Don't mine for coal ever again, don't ship coal ever again.' But what are the alternatives? If you're going to ask to have these things banned, then you need to have an alternative. So what does that look like? That's the missing piece with all of this."