SURREY â€” After countless meetings, critiques and much public and municipal opposition, the controversial coal transfer facility proposed for Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD) has been approved.
According to Port Metro Vancouver (PMV), who announced the decision Thursday morning, the $15 million facility will have to â€œmeet a strict set of conditions to ensure environmental and safety standards.â€
The decision follows a lengthy review process that saw many communities and residents voice an almost overwhelming opposition to the idea, as well as several local governments.
Also opposed to the idea were the provinceâ€™s two public health officers, both of whom wanted more research to be done regarding the long-term health affects the facility and increased coal train traffic would have on surrounding communities.
While some municipalities like Surrey and Delta said they could not support the project until a third-party health-impact assessment and public hearings had been completed, others like White Rock flat-out opposed the project in its entirety.
According to PMV, the project will create 50 local jobs and once constructed, the facility will move more than four million tonnes of thermal coal annually, which will come up from the U.S. and then ship overseas to China.
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 in years two-to-five.
Surrey Coun. Linda Hepner, who’s also the city’s current acting mayor, said she 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 theyâ€™ve done a health impact. But we asked for an independent assessment which I have yet to see.â€
Hepner also noted that rail safety remains a concern for Surrey, given that this will increase train traffic in the city’s south.
â€œWithout a better understanding of what that means to our slope stability in the vulnerable areas of the city, primarily thatâ€™s going to be South Surrey and Crescent Beachâ€¦those are still issues in my mind that have not been satisfied at all," she said.
For their part, Port Metro Vancouver has spent the past six months reviewing feedback from what would be their final pubic consultation period, which ended in December 2013. During that time the feedback received was almost universally in opposition, with only six out of more than 3,000 comments expressing favour for the proposal. In a follow-up, PMV said they would not be conducting a further health-impact assessment and that the studies theyâ€™d conducted were already beyond what the requirements were.
â€œThe decision to permit the proposed coal transfer facility at Fraser Surrey Docks was not one we took lightly,â€ said Port Metro Vancouverâ€™s VP of planning and operations Peter Xotta in a release. â€œThrough 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.â€
Jeff Scott, CEO of Fraser Surrey Docks echoed Xottaâ€™s statements.
â€œOver the past two years, a significant amount of work and a number of comprehensive studies have gone into ensuring this project is safe and that concerns raised were addressed,â€ said Scott. â€œWeâ€™re pleased that Port Metro Vancouver has granted the permit, and we will now begin moving towards construction.â€
However, for opponents such as Paula Williams, founder of the resident group Communities and Coal, the decision came as an obvious but unsurprising disappointment.
â€œWeâ€™re not surprised, I think that Port Metro Vancouver just did the dance,â€ said Williams. â€œThey 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.â€
And despite the decision, Williams said sheâ€™s looking at the positives, such as how the community was able to come together over the issue.
â€œI think we accomplished a lot and brought a lot of attention to this and will continue to fight,â€ she said. â€œWeâ€™re not going to back down and continue to work for an independent health assessment for the entire coal traffic corridor.â€
As well, Williams is hopeful that there are still some hurdles for FSD to overcome before their project can proceed.
â€œThere 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,â€ said Williams, noting that Metro Vancouver needs to grant those. â€œSo there are still two things on the table that could impact this proposal.â€
Looking forward, Williams said the community would continue to combat the coal issue throughout the region and that this wasnâ€™t the end.
â€œIn my opinion this is just the beginning of my group and a number groups like this that are representing people from their communities,â€ she said. â€œWeâ€™re not going to back down and will continue to work for an independent health assessment for the entire coal traffic corridor.â€
-with a file from Nelson Bennett