British Columbia

Environmental lawyers ask court to quash Surrey coal transfer facility

The Federal Court heard Wednesday from environmental lawyers that are trying to overturn the Vancouver Port Authority's approval of a coal transfer facility on the Fraser River.

'We don't need to be shipping dirty coal through Canada'

The proposed facility will transfer coal arriving from the U.S. on rail cars to barges, which would then carry the coal to nearby Texada Island to eventually be shipped to Asia.

The Federal Court heard Wednesday from environmental lawyers that are trying to overturn the Vancouver Port Authority's approval of a coal transfer facility on the Fraser River. 

The project would see four million tonnes of thermal coal pass through the Lower Mainland every year.

The coal would be brought in from Wyoming, barged to a site on Texada Islands and then exported to Asia. 

"We don't need to be shipping dirty coal through Canada," said Karen Campbell, a lawyer with Ecojustice Canada. 

"We're not reaping the benefits. We're actually suffering the health impacts, the community impacts, the environmental impacts and we're contributing to climate change by allowing this to happen," said Campbell.

The lawyers opposed to the project argue the port didn't have the lawful authority to approve the project when it did and allege it was biased in doing so. 

"There had been examples of port executives actually indicating support for the project publicly before approval had been granted," said Campbell. 

She also said the port's compensation scheme, "which will give incentives and bonuses based on project approvals," can inhibit its ability to make a fair decision. 

Karen Campbell, a lawyer with Ecojustice Canada (middle), argues coal is a dirty fossil fuel that needs to stay in the ground. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority was unavailable for comment noting the project permit is under judicial review. Fraser Surrey Docks — also a respondent — has yet to respond to an interview request. 

But in court documents, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority argued "the permit decisions were lawfully made, free from actual bias or the appearance of bias." 

Residents along the Fraser River are worried about the coal dust they say will be produced by an expanded facility along the river. (CBC)

Fierce opposition

The project has faced fierce opposition since it was approved on August 2014.

Paula Williams, the founding director of Communities and Coal Society, lives in close proximity to the site and is concerned about the diesel exhaust from the coal trains and from coal dust that may escape from open top rail cars. 

"These train tracks run right past communities, schools, people's homes, hospitals, beaches that people frequent and the coal dust is bad for our respiratory system," said Williams. 

The port has argued it carefully weighs all proposed projects, including rigorous environmental reviews. It has also stated that it has revised the project to reduce coal dust escaping from trains and barges.

"You can't put that genie back in the bottle with climate change. Once that coal is exported and burned, it's going to make climate change worse," said Kevin Washbrook with Voters Taking Action on Climate Change. 

The City of New Westminster and the City of Surrey are interveners in the case. A decision is expected within six months.