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Ottawa cites jobs, capacity, approves B.C.’s Roberts Bank Terminal 2 port expansion

Approval of port expansion a ‘death sentence’ for southern resident killer whales: environmentalist
A rendering of the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project, located to the northwest of the existing Roberts Bank terminals in Delta. Ottawa has approved the project subject to 370 legally binding conditions to protect the environment, including to prevent harm to local species, but environmentalists fear the worst. (Port of Vancouver image)

BC Green Party House Leader Adam Olsen said he is not surprised that the federal government approved the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project.

Proposed by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, the project is a three-berth marine container terminal located at Roberts Bank in Delta, about 35 kilometres south of Vancouver.

The project would transform more than 1.7 square kilometres of subtidal and tidal waters into a container port capable of handling 260 ships and more than 2.4 million containers a year. It would be connected to the current Deltaport terminal just north of the Tsawwassen BC Ferries terminal.

“I don’t want to undermine the process entirely,” he said. “But every indication that I have had over the last few years is that they had every intention on approving this project.”

“I wouldn’t call it a fix. I would say that the arguments they were using to defend this project, which is basically the entire economic interest of our country is on the line, it just felt to me that it was going to take a remarkable effort for them to come to a different decision.”

The federal government said in a release the project would increase the port’s capacity by 50 per cent.

“Without this port expansion, $3 billion in added GDP would be jeopardized by capacity shortages,” it reads. “The project is also expected to create hundreds of jobs during construction and several hundred more both onsite and off-site during operations.”

Olsen said he is concerned about the impacts of the project on the environment.

“We know that the noise created by increased shipping activity has had a significant impact on the Southern Resident killer whales,” he said. While Olsen acknowledged efforts by Transport Canada to find a solution, he predicts more noise because more ships will travel through the area.

Olsen added that his riding Saanich North and Islands as well as other Vancouver Island ridings have also been dealing with ships anchoring off local shores while waiting to enter the Port of Vancouver. He predicts this issue will only get worse.

Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault, however, said this project will reduce the congestion of ships in the Vancouver area, while protecting the environment.

“With 370 environmental protection measures that the port must meet, we have set a high bar for this project to proceed,” Guilbeault said. He added that for the first time ever Ottawa is asking a proponent to put up $150 million to guarantee the strict environmental conditions are met and habitats protected.

The federal government said in a release that the project is expected to create 1,500 direct jobs and 15,000 indirect jobs.

The Port of Vancouver supports 115,300 jobs across Canada, pays $7 billion in wages and contributes about $12 billion in annual GDP. Without an expansion project, Canada will lose an estimated $5 billion in net economic benefits to foreign companies and increase the cost of shipped goods to Canada by up to $61.4 billion by 2040, according to the federal government.

Olsen’s criticism echoes long-standing concerns of environmental groups. The project has also faced criticism from labour union fearing the loss of jobs.

Charlotte Dawe, Conservation and Policy Campaigner with the Wilderness Committee, said approval of the project will endanger southern resident killer whales, pointing to the death of a recently born calf.

“The world watched as she slowly starved to death because of vessel traffic noise and insufficient salmon,” Dawe said. “Now the federal government is handing the rest of the pod a death sentence with the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project.”

Dawe added that the decision is at odds with the federal government’s pledge at the 2022 United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15), where Guilbeault pressed other governments to halt biodiversity loss.

“The Terminal 2 expansion project is the opposite of COP15’s aim to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by the end of the decade.”

RELATED: Union fears robots will kill jobs in controversial B.C. port expansion

The federal government’s release also touted support from First Nations. Ottawa announced more than $45 million to accommodate project impacts on Indigenous rights in order to preserve, promote and develop Indigenous culture, heritage and stewardship activities. This funding would establish a stewardship committee, whose membership would include the Tsawwassen and Musqueam First Nations, as well as the Governments of Canada and British Columbia.

According to the federal government, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada actively consulted with 48 Indigenous Nations.

Olsen said he was aware of those consultations without part of them. But the federal government has often taken what he called a ‘take-it-over-leave-it’ approach. “Often times, it feels like the way that the federal government positions these deals, similar to the provincial governments, it puts these First Nations into a position, where they are damned if they do or damned, if they don’t.”

BC United MLA for Delta South Ian Paton said he is “little torn” by the decision, but generally supports the project, because it benefits Canada’s economy, including local farmers.

He expressed confidence in the long, extensive environmental review, noting that the 370 binding legal conditions cover every possible environmental aspect including southern resident killer whales. The project also underwent consultations with local First Nations, he added.

But he is concerned about additional traffic — be it by rail or truck — through the area during construction and then after the port operates. Local infrastructure will require upgrades such as overpasses to manage rail traffic among other improvements, he said.

Paton also criticized the current government’s failure to adequately prepare the region’s infrastructure such as the Massey Tunnel to handle the additional traffic from and to the port. If BC United had remained in government, it would have built a 10-lane-bridge over the Fraser River leading toward the terminal that would have been ready in time, he said.

But if Paton supports the project, he also warned against the misuse of agricultural land on shore near the proposed site for industrial purposes. That cannot happen again, he said in pointing to the history of current Deltaport Terminal. Paton also predicted that the project could divide the local public, but pointed to the bigger picture, given the economic importance of Vancouver as a port.

B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office said in statement that the project requires environmental assessments by both the provincial and federal governments. “The assessment was carried out through a federally appointed panel, which both levels of government are using to base their decisions about whether or not to approve the project to proceed,” it reads.

EAO is developing the final provincial summary assessment report and will seek feedback from First Nations and the public before finalizing materials which will then go to the ministers’ for decision on the project, it reads.

—with files from Zak Vescera.


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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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