Port Metro Vancouver’s plan to more than double the container-handling capacity of Deltaport by building a second terminal in the ocean is under fire after the filing of the environmental impact statement for the $2-billion expansion project.
Independent MLA Vicki Huntington (Delta South) predicts Roberts Bank Terminal 2 will further damage the sensitive Fraser River estuary, spur the industrialization of more prime agricultural land, and worsen road traffic already snarled by large numbers of container trucks.
Huntington said many of those impacts won’t be considered as part of the federal environmental assessment because of their distance from the immediate project footprint.
“That whole area of the Fraser estuary is considered one of the world’s most critical habitats,” Huntington said, adding she’s profoundly disappointed the port has decided to proceed.
“There is a time when society has to say ‘No, there are other values at stake here,'” she said. “The industrial activity on Roberts Bank is at is peak and can’t grow any further. Port, you’re just going to have to go elsewhere to do your business.”
The impact statement submitted by Port Metro Vancouver concludes there will be no adverse environmental impacts from the project that cannot be mitigated by creating or enhancing habitat near the site.
Huntington said those direct project impacts don’t consider other losses, such as the dozen rail sidings that would be created to accommodate trains on agricultural land, or other farmland that developers are already assembling for container-handling yards.
The extra capacity at Terminal 2 would be 2.4 million standard containers a year, more than twice as much as the nearly two million Deltaport can now handle.
The total Vancouver-area container capacity is expected to grow from nearly four million now to five million by the mid-2020s when Terminal 2 would come on stream, increasing total capacity by another 50 per cent.
The new 1.7-kilometre-long three-berth terminal with widened causeway would cover 108 hectares of what is now ocean just west of the existing terminal.
Construction would add $1 billion in local wages and the operations would add 1,500 terminal jobs and support nearly 11,000 more elsewhere.
The project will double the number of trains moving on the Roberts Bank rail corridor to eight on an average day, or 10 on a peak day.
The impact statement says it would add 3,700 truck trips on the average day, or 5,100 on a peak day.
But Port Metro Vancouver infrastructure vice-president Cliff Stewart suggested in an interview the project doesn’t necessarily mean more severe road congestion.
“There are currently a lot more container trucks on the road than need to be or ought to be there,” he said, adding the port is exploring various strategies to improve efficiency.
“It’s entirely possible that you could double the throughput of the port without increasing the number of trucks. We’re not suggesting that’s absolutely going to happen. But I think that’s a plausible target.”
Stewart noted container terminals began running a second shift at night last year.
“It’s entirely possible that in 2030 we’ll have no more trucks running around at any particular point in the day than are today.”
Stewart defended the port’s updated estimates of future demand, adding the project is based on container shipment growth averaging four per cent a year.
Expansions are already underway or planned at other local ports, and at Prince Rupert, but more capacity will still be needed, he said.
“We’re running out of room to manage the growth of Canadian trade with Asia,” he said. “We’ve looked at all the existing and feasible capacity on the west coast and, frankly, we’re going to run out in the early 2020s.”
Stewart said the port considered but ruled out increased use of Fraser Surrey Docks once the Massey Tunnel is replaced, allowing heavier ships to head upriver.
He said container ships are increasingly too big for the river. Even once the tunnel is removed, he noted, many of those ships would be too long to turn around on the Fraser.
“We think by the end of this decade there will probably be no container traffic on the river at all.”
The federal environmental assessment for Terminal 2 is expected to take two to three years.
The project, to be financed by the port and a yet-to-be-chosen private terminal operator, would take more than five years to build, starting in 2018, subject to approvals and a final investment decision.