Metro Vancouver board will vote on seeking federal assessment of George Massey Tunnel replacement

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      Premier Christy Clark's plan to build a $3.5-billion, 10-lane tolled bridge over the Fraser River remains one of the most contentious regional issues.

      At next Friday's (April 1) Metro Vancouver board meeting, local politicians will vote on a staff recommendation to ask for a federal environmental assessment.

      A staff report to the board calls for a letter to be sent to Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna. It would request her to order a review under section 14(2) of the Canadian Environment Assessment Act, 2012

      The province has already claimed that the new crossing, which would replace the George Massey Tunnel, will result in a net increase in farmland.

      That assertion has been ridiculed by the project's opponents. They say billions of dollars slated for this new bridge would be better spent enhancing the transit system.

      According to a Metro Vancouver staff report, the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office has determined that the proposed bridge is subject to a provincial review process. It must obtain an assessment certificate before it can be built.

      This is based on the tunnel-replacement project disturbing more than two hectares of foreshore and submerged land. As well, a provincial review is required if there's the addition of more than two lanes of paved public highway over more than 20 kilometres.

      The Metro Vancouver staff report reveals that Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency staff maintain that reviews of public highway projects "are triggered only if and when the subject public highway is situated within a federally designated wildlife area or migratory bird sanctuary".

      "The George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project does not meet this criterion in the view of the Assessment Agency," the Metro Vancouver staff report states.

      However, the federal minster can order a review if the proposed project "may cause adverse environmental effects or public concerns related to [the adverse effects]".

      Regional officials say that Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna (left) has legal authority to order a review.
      Stephen Hui

      In the meantime, Metro Vancouver staff are reviewing the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project Definition Report. They're also participating in the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office review.

      The mayor of Delta, Lois Jackson, is an outspoken supporter of the proposed bridge. She has noted that it will give residents of her municipality greater access to parkland along the Fraser River.

      The new bridge would also make it easier for motorists from Vancouver and Richmond to reach Ladner, Tsawwassen, and the soon-to-open 1.2-million square-foot Tsawwassen Mills shopping centre on Tsawwassen First Nation land.

      Critics of the project include the mayors of Richmond, Burnaby, and Vancouver and environmental and citizens' groups, including the Wilderness Committee and the Council of Canadians.

      Some opponents say it will promote urban sprawl, resulting in greater regional greenhouse-gas emissions. Others have pointed to more traffic tie-ups northbound on Highway 99 approaching the Oak Street Bridge.

      Delta elected a Liberal MP, Carla Qualtrough, in the last federal election. Richmond has one Liberal MP (Joe Peschisolido) and one Conservative MP (Alice Wong).