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British Columbia Vancouver mayor urges more public input ahead of coal-port expansion

Plans to build new and expand existing coal-port facilities in Metro Vancouver should not go ahead until the public gets a better chance to discuss the proposed developments, Mayor Gregor Robertson says.

In a letter released Wednesday, Mr. Robertson told Robin Silvester, the president and CEO of Port Metro Vancouver, that there has not been adequate opportunity for people to comment on the coal projects.

"Recently it came to my attention that Port Metro Vancouver (PMV) is considering two coal export proposals that would, if approved, make the PMV the largest exporter of coal in North America," Mr. Robertson wrote. "I am concerned that these proposals are being considered in the absence of full public consultation that would allow residents and businesses to have input."

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The port authority is considering an application for a new coal facility at Fraser Surrey Docks, which would handle eight million metric tonnes per year. Also under review is a plan to expand an existing facility at Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver, which would increase capacity from 12 million to 18 million metric tonnes annually.

Mr. Robertson wrote that Vancouver Council "has a keen and ongoing interest" in the developments, and has expressed concerns about the need for public input twice before, in July, 2010, and again last summer. "I am writing to ask you to clarify Port Metro Vancouver's commitment to public consultation prior to your decision on export proposals," Mr. Robertson said. "It is my hope that no decision will be made prior to community input."

But Jim Crandles, director of planning for PMV, said there has been adequate consultation already. "Our direct response is that we are undertaking the appropriate kind of consultations for the projects," Mr. Crandles said.

He said the Fraser Surrey Docks proponent sent letters to 1,700 residents in the area, informing them of plans, and PMV has been in contact with municipal staff in the regions affected by both projects. "So the community is well aware in knowing what kind of development plans that there have been," he said.

However, a new poll being released Thursday by the Dogwood Initiative, shows 64 per cent of respondents "hadn't heard of plans to increase U.S. coal shipments via B.C. ports." The poll also found that 47 per cent of respondents were opposed to the proposals, once they learned of them. (The poll of 539 adult B.C. residents was conducted by Justason Market Intelligence, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points 95 per cent of the time.)

The proposed port changes would largely handle B.C. coal, but there is an increasing demand by U.S. shippers to export through PMV. Will Horter, executive director of the Dogwood Initiative, a public interest advocacy group, said the poll shows that while most British Columbians don't know about the coal port plans, they are concerned when informed.

"I think the coal industry is trying to stay below the radar," he said. "There needs to be more transparency, and an engaged process."

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Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, said the PMV has not done a good job of discussing the proposed changes with British Columbians.

"I would say their consultation process is pretty underwhelming. It's inadequate," he said. "They should delay any decision. They should back up a step."

Mr. Washbrook said there should be a public discussion not just on the physical changes proposed to the port, but also on the global implications of shipping more coal to Asia, where it will add to climate-change problems when it is burned.

"It is no longer time for business as usual," he said.

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