Surrey and White Rock react to coal facility decision

SURREY — Following the decision by Port Metro Vancouver Thursday to approve a proposed coal transfer facility for Fraser Surrey Docks, municipalities and community stakeholders have been weighing in on the decision.

In Surrey, Coun. Linda Hepner, who is the city’s current acting mayor, said she’s disappointed by the decision considering all the calls for an independent third-party health assessment.

"We were unanimously opposed until certain things had been addressed, and one was the health-impact assessment," said Hepner, who’s also running for mayor this fall.

"I believe that Metro will say that they’ve done a health-impact. But we asked for an independent assessment which I have yet to see."

Hepner also noted that rail safety remains a concern for Surrey, given that this will increase train traffic in the city’s south.

"Without a better understanding of what that means to our slope stability in the vulnerable areas of the city, primarily that’s going to be South Surrey and Crescent Beach…those are still issues in my mind that have not been satisfied at all," she said.

In White Rock, the rail traffic issue is also top of mind as they’ve been dealing with it on top of pedestrian access to the beach and the transportation of dangerous goods throughout the community.

"Well we’re very disappointed but I would have to say it was not an unexpected decision," said White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin. "Port Metro Vancouver’s mandate is to make money and to create jobs and this does probably both. The fact that it disturbs our community greatly is not a concern of theirs necessarily so I understand how these things work."

While municipalities like Surrey and Delta had been conditionally opposed to the facility while requesting more research be done on the health impacts of coal transportation and the community, White Rock flat-out rejected the idea of building the facility.

Baldwin said for White Rock, the issue simply adds to the already increasing issues residents have to face with the railroad.

"It’s definitely an issue with respect to train frequency and more trains a day and that’s nothing we need, that’s for sure," he said. "So the additional vibration, whistling and all the rest of it is not going to be welcomed by our community."

The project will also see an increase of 640 train trips through White Rock, Surrey and Delta in the first year, which is set to double in years two-to-five.

"People say ‘You live by a railroad track, what do you expect.’ Well, that’s kind of like saying ‘You live by road, why would you complain if that road changes from a country lane to four-lane highway?’" said Baldwin. "That’s basically what we’re facing here and our country road is definitely becoming a four-lane highway."

And over at the Surrey Board of Trade, which had been in favour of the facility, CEO Anita Huberman said they were satisfied with the decision.

"We at the board of trade are an organization that supports business and attracts business to the city," she said. "So in the long term we know that it will not only create jobs for the coal shipping side of Fraser Surrey Docks, but it’s an international gateway, this docking facility, so I think other business opportunities will arise as a result of this.

"I just think this will continue to build jobs and enhance Surrey’s visibility as an international gateway so we are very pleased."

However, for opponents such as Paula Williams, founder of the resident group Communities and Coal, the decision came as an obvious but unsurprising disappointment.

"We’re not surprised, I think that Port Metro Vancouver just did the dance," said Williams. "They say this was a two-year process and they did a very thorough review, but the only reason it took two years is because of all the pressure and roadblocks that the public and various levels of government and other bodies put in front of them. It was more like a public relations nightmare for them, not necessarily the review."

And despite the decision, Williams said she’s looking at the positives, such as how the community was able to come together over the issue.

"I think we accomplished a lot and brought a lot of attention to this and will continue to fight," she said. "We’re not going to back down and continue to work for an independent health assessment for the entire coal traffic corridor."

As well, Williams is hopeful that there are still some hurdles for FSD to overcome before their project can proceed.

"There are still two things Fraser Surrey Docks still needs to get, a waste water discharge permit in order to discharge the contaminated water after they spray the coal, and they also need the air quality permit," said Williams, noting that Metro Vancouver needs to grant those. "So there are still two things on the table that could impact this proposal."

Looking forward, Williams said the community would continue to combat the coal issue throughout the region and that this wasn’t the end.

"In my opinion this is just the beginning of my group and a number groups like this that are representing people from their communities," she said. "We’re not going to back down and will continue to work for an independent health assessment for the entire coal traffic corridor."

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