Environmental groups file lawsuit against Surrey coal port

SURREY — Two Surrey residents along with local environmental groups have launched a federal court challenge over the recently approved coal transport facility Fraser Surrey Docks, alleging the Port Authority granting the application were biased in their deliberations.

The 13-page application for judicial review was filed by lawyers for Ecojustice on behalf of Surrey residents Christine Dujmovich and Paula Williams, along with the B.C.-based organizations Voters Taking Action on Climate Change (VTACC) and Communities and Coal.

“Our clients were there every step the way and they saw conduct that suggests Port Metro Vancouver’s approval was a done deal before the permit review process had even concluded,” said Karen Campbell, Ecojustice staff lawyer. “Our clients’ case not only alleges bias, it also challenges the Port’s failure to consider the dangerous climate impacts of burning the coal once it reaches Asia.”

The application requests that a federal court declare that the Port failed to observe the principles of natural justice, procedural fairness, and the rule against bias during the project review process.

Port Metro Vancouver approved the $15-million coal facility in August, which will import up to four megatons of thermal coal annually in open-car rail from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin through White Rock, Delta, and then onto barges at Fraser Surrey Docks.

The coal would then be transported along the Fraser River to Texada Island for loading onto deepsea vessels to feed China’s growing thirst for coal.

Both the transportation of coal and the burning of fossil fuels for energy are sticking points for Williams, who lives adjacent to the coal port.

“Local communities will be burdened with the immediate health risks of increased coal transport and then saddled with the impacts of climate change, which are already appearing,” said Williams, who is a co-founder of Communities and Coal. “We’re getting hit with a double whammy so that coal companies and the Port can make a quick buck."

Port Metro Vancouver defended the process when they approved the application last month, spending six months reviewing feedback from their public consultation period, which ended in December 2013.

“The decision to permit the proposed coal transfer facility at Fraser Surrey Docks was not one we took lightly,” Port Metro Vancouver’s VP of planning and operations Peter Xotta said at the time. “Through our comprehensive project review process, stakeholder consultation, as well as third-party validated environmental and health studies, it was determined there are no unacceptable risks and the project could be permitted.”

But the decision went against overwhelming public opposition, both in Surrey and surrounding communities impacted by the delivery of coal. Municipalities like Surrey and Delta said they could not support the project without a third-party health-impact assessment and public hearings, while White Rock outright rejected it.

Also opposed to the idea were the province’s two public health officers, both of whom wanted more research to be done regarding the long-term health effects the facility and increased coal train traffic would have on surrounding neighbourhoods.

The project will also see an increase of 640 train trips through White Rock, Surrey and Delta annually, as one train per day means a trip to and from the facility.

That number could also double over the next five years.

–with files from Christopher Poon


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