Proposed Surrey coal shipping terminal cancelled by port authority

A proposed Surrey coal shipping project that had drawn sharp criticism from environmentalists and some local governments has had its permit cancelled by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, effectively killing the project.

The project had attracted opposition from local governments and environmentalists

For decades, Westshore Terminals in Delta has transported coal from Canada and the U.S. It handles more than 33 million tonnes per year. (CBC)

A proposed Surrey coal shipping project that has drawn sharp criticism from environmentalists and some local governments has had its permit cancelled by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, effectively killing the project for now.

According to the port authority, the  project — proposed by Fraser Surrey Docks — was required to meet 83 conditions, but failed to meet a key condition that it show substantial progress on construction had been made by Nov. 30, 2018.

As a result, the port authority cancelled the permit.

Jeff Scott, Fraser Surrey Docks president and CEO, said his understanding was that the facility had to be complete by November 2020.

"It does come as a surprise and a disappointment, and we had been talking to the port about our progress," said Scott.

But the project had stalled in the last couple of years.

"The port authority does not take lightly the prospect of cancelling a permit," said Vancouver Fraser Port Authority spokesperson Danielle Jang in an emailed statement.

 "Well before any such action is taken, we make inquiries to better understand project progress."

Drawn-out permit process

Scott described the permit process as lengthy and involved.

"It was very rigorous and robust, and it took about four years — four and a half years to actually receive the permit," he said. "During that time market conditions changed and softened, and as a result of that the project was idled."

A overhead photo of the Surrey Fraser Docks, which is located on the Fraser River in Surrey B.C. near North Delta. (Google Maps)

The facility was originally proposed as a transfer station to load thermal coal from rail cars from the United States onto barges, which would be transported to Texeda Island. There, the coal was to be loaded onto vessels and shipped overseas to Asia.

A permit for that plan was issued in 2014, but in 2015 an amended permit allowed for direct coal transfer onto oceangoing ships in the Fraser River.

Scott said that would have significantly reduced the number of shipments down the Fraser River. He said the plan called for between 60 and 80 ships per year travelling to the facility — each ship could transport as much coal as eight barges.

Scott also said the plan wasn't limited to transporting thermal coal originating in the U.S., it had shifted to include to metallurgical coal — some of it mined in B.C. and Alberta.

Environmentalist opposition

For environmentalists who had opposed the project, the permit cancellation came as a victory.

"This is good news; this is a win for the climate and for local communities," said Fraser Thomson, a lawyer with Ecojustice.

The group had represented a local community organization and two individuals in litigation against the coal terminal project.

"Our clients are very concerned about this project going forward, so they're delighted that it has been cancelled," Thomson said.

He said the opposition centred around the transportation of four million tonnes of coal through neighbourhoods, and the potential dust associated with that.

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

He added that the coal transferred through that facility would be responsible for the release of nearly seven million tonnes of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere each year.

Fraser Surrey Docks not giving up yet

Scott said he was still confident the project would ultimately move forward.

"We're obviously disappointed and we're in the process of reviewing what that means for the project and what our options are," he said. "Then we'll decide on which direction we're going to go from here."

According to a port authority statement, if the company wants to submit a new project application, "it would go through our standard project and environmental review process, like all other project applications."


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Rafferty Baker

Rafferty Baker is CBC Vancouver's mobile journalist. Follow him @raffertybaker

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