This morning (May 22), the head of Fraser Surrey Docks invited members of the media to its port on the Fraser River, where the company hopes to expand capacity to accommodate the export of four million metric tonnes of coal per year.
Concerns have been raised about the transfer of coal from mines in Montana and Wyoming, through the Lower Mainland, to the dock in Surrey, and down the Fraser River, from where it would cross the Pacific Ocean to markets in Asia. Fraser Surrey Docks president and CEO Jeff Scott outlined a long list of safety, health, and environmental precautions that would work toward ensuring the clean transport of that coal.
- Dust control systems and water sprayers at the mines and various points along the routes of transport designed to minimize the spread of coal dust.
- Enclosed sheds at unloading and transfer points.
- Monitoring and meteorological stations in and around the coal terminal in Surrey.
“We believe that the project addresses the concerns of our neighbours and delivers environmental standards that we all expect and deserve,” Scott said.
Sitting by his side was Courtney Wallace, northwest regional director of public affairs for BNSF Railway, the company owned by Warren Buffett that will, if the project is approved, transport the coal from U.S. mines to the Surrey port. Wallace emphasized the effectiveness of new technologies that reduce coal-dust losses by as much as 85 percent.
“Coal dust is an issue at the mines, in the Powder River basin, which is in Montana and Wyoming,” she said. “Any loss in transit decrease substantially as you move away from the mines.”
None of those precautions satisfy Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change. In a telephone interview, he told the Straight that his stand against the project has little to do with coal dust.
“We don’t want them to safely get the coal to Asia to be burned and contribute to climate change,” Washbrook said. “This stuff just has to stay in the ground. That’s our take.”
He also expressed disapproval for how the project's consultation process has moved forward. Washbrook argued that it’s the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, an arm of the federal government, that should be leading public discussions, not Fraser Surrey Docks.
“The port authority has handed off public consultation to this company [Fraser Surrey Docks] that has a financial interest in exporting coal,” he explained. “If you want to do a really bad job of engaging the public, this is how you do it.”
Washbrook called attention to an action scheduled for tomorrow (May 23) at 1:00 p.m., when a number of environmental and community groups will visit the port authority’s office at Canada Place and “demand that they do their job, act in the public interest, and hold full public hearings”, according to a VTACC media release.
A representative for the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority did not respond to a request for an interview by deadline.
Scott described the coal-expansion project as a matter of survival for the port. He said that it would create 25 full-time jobs at Fraser Surrey Docks and an additional 25 positions along the supply chain. Scott noted that the current number of people employed by the dock stands around 230, which is significantly less than the more than 500 people who were working the port before the financial decline that began in 2008.
“We have sustained a pretty significant downturn in business over the last five years," Scott said, "and without this project our future would be in jeopardy.”
Fraser Surrey Docks is inviting the public to two open houses for the proposed Direct Transfer Coal Facility. Those meetings are scheduled for Thursday (May 23) at 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. and Saturday (May 25) at 1 to 4 p.m. at the Sheraton Guildford (15269 104 Avenue) in Surrey.