Whales vs. trade: Environmentalists push back against proposed port terminal in Delta
'We need to address this problem from the whales' perspective,' says Ecojustice lawyer
A proposed new marine container terminal in Delta, B.C., is facing pushback from environmentalists who believe the project will threaten whales and the salmon they depend on for survival.
The Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project would create 108 hectares of new industrial land and build a new terminal with up to three berths for container ships.
According to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, the project will generate 1,500 terminal jobs.
An independent federal review panel is currently considering arguments from industry and environmentalists.
Margot Venton, a lawyer with Ecojustice, an environmental law firm fighting the case on behalf of environmental groups, said "the relationship between salmon and whales is hitting a critical point" and the project will exacerbate the problems already facing killer whales in the Salish Sea.
She said noise from ship traffic interferes with killer whales' hearing and masks their communication calls, making it difficult for them to find fish to feed on.
She is also worried about the risk of ships striking whales in the Salish Sea and the increased threat of marine pollution more ships could bring.
No additional ships, port authority says
Duncan Wilson, vice-president of community and government affairs at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, said the new terminal will not mean more ships in the Salish Sea.
He said the new terminal will receive two vessels per week that currently come through Vancouver's inner harbour to the Port of Vancouver. The change will be in the size of the ships, said Wilson, because the Roberts Bank terminal will be built to accommodate larger boats than the Delta port can now.
Wilson said the port authority has a mandate to provide port infrastructure to meet Canada's trade objectives and the project will help meet that objective.
He argued the authority is doing everything it can to consider the environmental impact the project will have, including signing a conservation agreement with the federal government and industry players to take measures to protect endangered southern resident killer whales.
"If any organization has done more to benefit whales, I can't find one," said Wilson, referring to the port authority.
'We need to put concerns about species at risk ahead of concerns about expansion and development."- Margot Venton, environmental lawyer
According to Wilson, the proposed location for the new terminal is in deep water that avoids infringing on shallow intertidal habitat that could affect whales and local First Nations crabbing territory.
"We're intentionally locating the terminal in this place to minimize that impact," said Wilson.
For Venton, these considerations are not necessarily enough.
"We need to put concerns about species at risk ahead of concerns about expansion and development," she said.
The federal review panel hearings are scheduled to continue until May.
With files from The Early Edition