Thursday, November 12, 2009

SFOT Meeting with Port of Vancouver

We had a great meeting on Tuesday evening with Peter Xotta from Port Metro Vancouver. Peter is the Vice President of Planning and Development for the Port. I would encourage you to download the audio from our meeting, but I want to highlight some of the information I learned.

Nathan Pachal, Councillor Grant Ward, Bill Taylor, Peter Xotta

One of the larger changes happening at the Port is the way that they interact with the community. As a federal organization, the Port has the ability to ignore municipal zoning and not pay property taxes. The Port does pay something called a PILT (Payment in Lieu of Tax) amounting to $6 million annually to municipalities in which the Port owns property. Though the Port has the ability to ignore the community in which it operates, the Port is now starting to consult with communities; realizing the importance of partnering with, and listening to the concerns of, our region. To that end they are making a real effort to reach out. The Port is working on something called PMV 2050 which is their long range master plan for the Port and our region. They are also working on plans to improve air quality, deal with truck traffic, noise, and reduce their environmental footprint. I was told that by 2011 their long term plan should be complete. Some of the exciting sustainability initiatives that have happened recently are the addition of shore power for cruise ships to reduce GHG emissions when they are in port. Also, the Port has a tiered fee system for ships that use the port facilities. Ships that use cleaner fuel, pay lower fees. Right now about 30 to 35% of the ships are paying the lower dues, so there is lots of room for this program to grow. Also, the Port is taking a serious look at short sea shipping (running ships up the Fraser River) and rail shuttling to reduce truck traffic.

On the topic of Rail, the Port sees rail as very important for the future sustainability of commercial trade. As part of their new model of working together with all levels of government, the Port (with other organizations) has been working to improve rail in the region, the Roberts Bank Corridor Project being one example. The Robert Bank Corridor has been a bit controversial in Langley as many people would like to see the trains gone from Langley. I asked why trains couldn’t be diverted away from Langley. I was told that there would not be enough capacity on other rail lines to do this. It would trigger massive, costly expansion on the other lines. I was told that for at least the next 25 years, there will not be any double-tracking of the rail line going through Langley. One of the Port’s major priorities that it would like to see addressed is a plan for replacing the over-100-year-old New Westminster Rail Bridge. The bridge is owned by the Government of Canada and the Port estimates that it would cost $300 million to replace. The new bridge would allow for both freight and passenger rail operations. There was recent talk about making the new Pattullo Bridge a joint rail/road bridge. It has been decided that the bridge will not be a joint structure due to liability issues and construction costs.

I asked about many of the environmental concerns raised by many in the community like the Pacific Flyway. I was told that the Port takes this issue seriously, and I’m hoping to get some more information about the mitigation measures they are taking. Another interesting thing that the Port is looking into is using the material from river dredging to create new land, possibly for ALR use.

It was really great to hear about the Port from Peter and really how important it is in Metro Vancouver. Did you know that the Port accounts for 40% of all port traffic in Canada? That makes it pretty important for our nation. Also, the Port receives $0 funding from government. While the Port definitely has positive externalities for our region, it will be interesting to see how they address the negative externalities in the coming years. I am looking forward to their 2050 long-range plan. Peter said that with all the infrastructure being added and expanded in the region, we will not even recognize it in the next 5 years. If we manage the new infrastructure properly, we will have a system that will work well into the future, but I fear we may not, and may even lose our region’s livability in the process.

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