Delta mayor calls coal dust fears ‘hysteria’

Lois Jackson says coal trains no 'bogeyman' as Metro Vancouver board reiterates opposition to Fraser Surrey Docks terminal

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson says local fear about dust from coal trains rolling through the Lower Mainland is “hysteria” that isn’t grounded in facts.

She spoke out at a June 12 Metro Vancouver board meeting where regional politicians demanded a longer consultation period on the revised Fraser Surrey Docks proposal for a new coal export terminal on the Fraser River.

“There seems to be a lot of hysteria and a lot of innuendo about certain things about coal,” Jackson said. “There is not a big bogeyman beside the rail tracks.”

She said testing by Delta near rail lines that serve the existing coal terminal at Deltaport has repeatedly shown coal dust is “very difficult to detect.”

One resident recently brought in a soiled paper towel from wiping down deck furniture he was convinced was dusted by a coal train, she said, prompting the municipality to test it, with the same result.

“The majority of what’s on your sundecks, people, is mould, it’s not coal dust. It was hardly able to be detected in this sample that they took.”

She also said other mayors and councillors are exaggerating the number of trains expected to serve the Fraser Surrey Docks operation, noting it would be one a day in each direction through White Rock, Surrey and Delta based on the proposal to ship four million tonnes of U.S. thermal coal a year.

White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin said those two trains a day could easily increase to eight if the terminal’s capacity rises beyond the initial proposal.

And he suggested that it “will be a lot more” than even eight if the Massey Tunnel is replaced with a bridge and the Fraser River is dredged to allow passage for more heavily laden freighters.

Baldwin, however, agreed with Jackson about residents’ coal dust complaints.

“We, too, have done analysis of people’s cleaning materials and found that it is just spores and what not. It is not coal dust, but they firmly believe it is coal dust.”

White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin and Delta Mayor Lois Jackson.   Black Press file photo.

Baldwin and other Metro directors voted in favour of a resolution from Surrey Coun. Judy Villeneuve reiterating the regional district’s opposition to coal shipments on the Fraser River other than from Deltaport.

Fraser Surrey Docks wants Port Metro Vancouver to amend its project approval to allow it to load directly to ocean-going ships, rather than first barging coal to Texada Island as originally proposed.

A three-week consultation period in May was inadequate for the change, according to the Metro resolution.

The regional district wants public information meetings and more studies, including a human health risk assessment with methodology approved by the Lower Mainland’s chief medical health officers.

Baldwin said the analysis provided to date by Fraser Surrey Docks has been “mickey mouse.”

Jackson, however, accused health officials of frightening people about coal, which she said is “basically inert” and poses almost no risks until it’s burned.

She said testing after a 2012 spill of coal into the ocean at Deltaport found no negative effects and she disputed a claim by Richmond Coun. Harold Steves that a “dead zone” of sea life surrounds that coal terminal.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said there’s a need to examine the cumulative risks from multiple major projects in the region. “How much can this area take?” he asked.

Villeneuve said there are multiple grounds for local concern about the proposed coal shipments, from the terminal’s expected sewer discharges to blocked level crossings.

“We now have 22 trains going through our community with several accesses and egresses cut off for long periods of time,” Villeneuve said. “The community remains very concerned about that aspect of it.”

Villeneuve also insisted the increased greenhouse gas emissions from the eventual burning of  U.S. thermal coal “should be part of the conversation.”

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