Thursday, January 9, 2014

Coal Trains, Container Trains, and Port Expansion

I’ve been following Port Metro Vancouver over the last several years in relation to the expansion of Deltaport, called the Roberts Bank Terminal Two Project, and also the proposed expansion of coal exports through our region.

While the proposed expansion of Deltaport will bring many positive economic benefits, those benefits are not spread equally throughout the region. Also, there are negative economic, social, and environmental externalities that may result from of the expansion.

If you are unlucky enough to live by a rail line, like people in the City of Langley or Fort Langley, you will be subject to more rail traffic. If you live next to a rail line, you are at higher risk of chronic health conditions. In the City of Langley, the community will be cut off from the rest of the region as “the Roberts Bank Rail Corridor currently carries approximately 22 trains per day, which is expected to increase to 28 to 38 trains a day with completion of the third birth at the existing terminal in 2016/17. Current trains can be up to 3.2 kilometres in length. With the addition of the RBT2 Project, rail traffic may potentially increase to over 60 trains per day.” This may also have a negative impact on the economic prosperity of the City of Langley or any other area in which we see this massive increase in train traffic.

Of course much can be done to mitigate these negative impacts. Early this week, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency announced that the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project will be reviewed by an independent panel. Even with an independent review panel, the Harper Government has final say on any project. Since the Port is a federal agency, I have no doubt that this project will be approved.

Hopefully, the review panel will recommend measures that will lessen the negative impacts due to the proposed expansion and that the Harper Conservatives will listen to the panel.

Besides expanding Deltaport, Port Metro Vancouver is also looking at pumping more coal shipment through our region. This has both the US and our local health authorities very concerned as the burning and shipment of coal can have devastating impacts on human health. Many municipalities, including the City of Langley, have written letters of support of our health authorities in calling for the Port to complete a Health Impact Assessment for the proposed increase of coal shipments.

Late last year, the Port submitted a half-baked “Health Impact Assessment” that left many questions unanswered, and didn’t impress our local health authorities, which are still calling for a proper Health Impact Assessment.

The City of Langley Council will be hearing, and could approve, a motion on January 13th to send a letter to Port Metro Vancouver once again calling for a proposed Health Impact Assessment. I’m hopeful that since Council called for a Health Impact Assessment in the past, they will support this motion.

Without addressing the serious health impacts from the shipment of coal in our communities people that live in the City of Langley, White Rock, South Surrey, and Delta will be at a higher risk of premature health and chronic illness. I recently learned that toxic mercury released by the burning of coal in China is making its want back across the Pacific Ocean and is contaminating the drinking water in San Juan County. Our water in Metro Vancouver could face the same risk.

While the Port is an important generator of economic prosperity in our region, we have to make sure that the economic benefits are received by as many people as possible, and not at the expense of the livability of our region.

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