After working for most of his life, Richard Jeffries is about ready to retire soon. A few years ago, the 67-year-old man sold his house in Langley and bought a waterfront condo in Richmond.
Jeffries and his girlfriend chose a nice spot where they could spend their golden years together close to nature. From their ground-floor patio, it’s a short walk to the banks of the Fraser River.
“The river is really beautiful there,” Jeffries told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
But like many residents in their three-building condo complex, Jeffries and his partner are now worried about their location.
The Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation (VAFFC) is seeking provincial and federal approval to build a jet-fuel facility at the other end of an adjacent park. This could see Jeffries and his neighbours sitting not far away from six gigantic tanks that will hold up to 80 million litres of highly combustible fuel.
The south arm of the Fraser River, where the residents often watch fish splashing in the water and eagles gliding overhead, would never be the same again. Huge Panamax-class tankers and other container vessels like barges would be sailing right before their eyes to deliver fuel to the facility.
Based on projections made by the VAFFC, the airline consortium expects a total of 156 vessel calls a year to bring in three billion litres of fuel through the main arm of the Fraser. The corporation intends to pump the fuel from this facility through a new pipeline that will connect to another tank farm at the airport.
Jeffries said that he and other residents are worried about accidents. These include potential major jet-fuel fires.
They’re also wary of fumes being emitted when the tanks vent and fuel is transferred from the ships. “I’m concerned that we’re going to smell the odours,” Jeffries said. “Like when you go by the airport, you can sometimes smell the odours.”
There’s the risk of fuel spillage in the river as well. Richard Kuprewicz, a Redmond, Washington–based pipeline consultant, noted that this danger cannot be eliminated.
“It’s just a question of who can cause the spill and how big could the volume be,” Kuprewicz told the Straight in a phone interview.
He also said that there’s greater risk of spillage from ships than from a pipeline. However, the expert pointed out that leaks from pipelines are usually bigger than those from vessels.
According to Kuprewicz, tank farms likewise carry some risks. He explained: “Is there a risk with a tank farm? Yes. Is the risk very high? No. If it’s properly designed and maintained, it’s less likely to have a spill at a tank farm…than it is with, let’s say, a spill from a barge or a pipeline.”
Information posted online by the VAFFC includes a summary of its “Oil Pollution Emergency Plan”. The document states that the plan was developed “to enable response in the unlikely event of a spill during the offloading of aviation fuel at the marine terminal and to minimize potential environmental effects”.
The document describes how fuel would be transferred from ships to shore. “The unloading arms will be designed to have flexibility and move with the vessel as winds, tides and currents change and as the vessel rises higher in the water as the fuel is offloaded,” it states.
According to Jeffries, local residents are also concerned about the salability of their properties. Jeffries talked to one of them quite recently. “He had a buyer all lined up, and then he said when the buyer heard the news about this thing, he just dropped,” Jeffries said.
The VAFFC did not make a spokesperson available for comment by the Straight’s deadline.
Members of the group Vancouver Airport Pipeline Opposition for Richmond will stage a rally on Saturday (January 28). The protest will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the East Richmond Community Hall (12360 Cambie Road), where the VAFFC has scheduled an open house about the project.