A proposed coal-shipping terminal along British Columbia's Fraser River is unlikely to adversely affect the environment or the health of people living nearby, according to an environmental assessment commissioned by the company behind the project.
But the report was quickly dismissed by two of the region's chief medical officers, who said it did not "meet even the most basic requirements of a health impact assessment" and failed to allay their concerns about the project's potential impact on public health.
Fraser Surrey Docks has asked Port Metro Vancouver for permission to add a coal-shipping facility to its existing terminal, located along the Fraser River southeast of Vancouver.
The proposed facility would process four million tonnes of coal each year, transferring it from rail cars to barges, which would then carry the coal to nearby Texada Island to eventually be shipped to Asia.
The project has run into fierce opposition from environmentalists, residents and other groups, who have raised concerns about the terminal's potential harm on the surrounding environment and air quality.
Fraser Surrey Docks hired SNC-Lavalin to review the proposal, and the firm's report concludes the company's proposal effectively mitigates the potential impact of the project.
"SNC-Lavalin has concluded that the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental, socio-economic or health effects," said the report.
"After consideration of the potential residual effects, and taking into account engineering design and identified mitigation measures, the project can be constructed and operated without significant adverse effects."
Air quality has been among the most pressing issues with the chief medical health officers of Fraser Health Authority and the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority both saying they were worried about the project's potential impact on the public.
The SNC-Lavalin report lists a number of measures designed to lessen the impact on air quality.
However, Dr. Paul Van Buynder and Dr. Patricia Daly, the chief medical officers of Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health, respectively, responded to in a letter to Fraser Surrey Docks that warned the report did not address their concerns.
"The assessment of potential health impacts is particularly disappointing, and receives minimal attention in the document," says the health officers' letter, dated Nov. 13.
"The report does not meet even the most basic requirements of a health impact assessment."
The doctors' eight-page letter said they are "concerned about the underlying assumptions" used to predict the terminal's affect on air quality and suggested the report was little more than a "repackaging" of previous examinations of the project.
The letter also complains that the report only examines what happens within the confines of Fraser Surrey Docks; it does not deal with the impact of transporting the coal to the terminal or shipping it by barge to Texada Island.
"Based on these shortfalls, this report adds little to the information we require to determine the potential health impacts of the project and does not allow us to address legitimate concerns raised by members of the public and local governments," the letter states.
During construction, the company plans to use a water-based dust suppression system, install fencing to protect the site from high winds, prohibit the burning of organic or construction material, and restrict vehicle traffic, the report notes.
Once the facility is running, the report says, a substance known as a "topping agent" would be added to the coal to reduce dust, empty rail cars would be sprayed to remove remaining coal dust, and operations would be limited during periods of strong winds.
Fraser Surrey Docks issued a statement that suggested the environmental assessment report should put to rest any lingering concerns about the project.
"The assessment provides answers to the majority of the questions that have been raised and concludes that the project will not cause significant adverse environmental, socio-economic or health effects," said the statement.
The Dogwood Initiative, an environmental group that has emerged as one of the project's most vocal critics, urged Port Metro Vancouver to reject the coal proposal.
"Unless the port can go back to the drawing board and comply with the demands of our medical officers, study the full scope of impacts and conduct public hearings, it should deny the Fraser Surrey Docks permit application and stop any further coal expansion," Laura Benson of the Dogwood Initiative said in a news release.
The release of the report marks the beginning of a 30-day public comment period.
In addition to air quality, the report identifies five other areas of potential concern: noise; marine traffic safety; increased vehicle traffic; emergency response capacity; and the potential impact on the marine environment.
Once at Texada Island, the coal would be transferred onto deep-sea vessels to be shipped to Asia. Texada Quarrying Ltd. Is involved in a separate process to expand its stockpile area to handle the coal, but that wasn't part of the report released Monday.