Delta council has deferred a motion to request a comprehensive, independent health impact assessment on a proposed coal handling facility in Surrey, pending a staff report which was not ready in time for Monday’s meeting.
The motion on Fraser Surrey Docks comes from Delta’s own environment advisory committee, but a staff report won’t be available to council until the next scheduled meeting on Dec. 16.
Mayor Lois Jackson said without the report it wouldn’t give council the answers it would need to take direction on the issue.
“I must say from my perspective, normally the council would have a report that comes with a motion, particularly of this magnitude.”
She said that other than Coun. Bruce McDonald, who is the environment advisory committee chair, nobody on council has heard comments made at those meetings.
McDonald said despite the delay in receiving the report, he believes a health assessment needs to take place.
“I am prepared to wait for the recommendation from staff on who should do it, what extent it should be, and where that should come from.”
Coun. Ian Paton said the municipality has received hundreds of emails about the coal port from residents, and that council takes the matter seriously.
“My farm has been right next to the railway tracks going through East Delta since 1969 so I know plenty about coal trains going past in my neighbourhood,” he said. “But I do agree with Her Worship that we’ve got staff working hard right now bringing some of the answers forward to us.”
Paton said council still doesn’t know who would pay for an independent health assessment, particularly given the project affects the entire region.
“Should Delta foot the bill for a health impact assessment which is going to answer questions for all of Metro Vancouver, including Surrey and Langley and New Westminster and everybody?”
Couns. Jeannie Kanakos and Sylvia Bishop were opposed to deferral, citing the fact that chief medical health officers from both regional health authorities have already demanded a comprehensive assessment.
“I don’t think our staff would come back and say we have more knowledge than the chief medical officers of the existing health authorities” said Kanakos, who argued at length with Mayor Jackson over procedure.
The visible divide on council roused the audience in council chambers, some of whom shouted from their seats.
“Think about the community,” said Doug Massey, who stormed out in disgust after the council vote.
Several communities, including Surrey and White Rock, have already expressed opposition to the coal terminal until a health assessment is conducted.
Fraser Surrey Docks currently has a proposal to import between two and four million metric tonnes of U.S. thermal coal along the BNSF railway line through White Rock, North Delta, and then a deep sea terminal on the Fraser River in Surrey. The coal would then be barged to Texada Island where it would be loaded onto deep sea vessels to transport to China.