An intense debate about increasing coal exports to Asia from British Columbia focused on Texada Island recently.
The Texada quarry, owned by Lafarge Canada Ltd., is the endpoint in a proposal that would see millions of tonnes of thermal coal from the United States exported through the province.
Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD) has applied to Port Metro Vancouver for a project permit to build coal-handling facilities within its existing terminal operations that would allow the direct transfer of coal from trains to barges.
The barges would carry coal through Sabine Channel, located between Texada and Lasqueti islands, to the quarry, where the coal would be stored before transfer to deep-sea vessels for export to Asia. The coal would come from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, delivered to FSD on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway.
FSD forecasts it would handle two million metric tonnes in 2013, increasing to four million in 2014. The coal would be delivered to Texada by barges carrying 8,000 tonnes every two days in 2013, increasing to two barges a day in 2014.
Lafarge has applied to the provincial government for a permit amendment to increase its coal storage capability. The company plans to expand the area that is used to stockpile and trans-ship coal. According to the company, the volume of coal that will need to be stockpiled will increase to 800,000 tonnes. While FSD’s application is specific up to year five, the full build-out of the proposal is for eight million tonnes of coal to be exported starting in year six.
Lincoln Kyne is Lafarge’s project manager, and André Balfe is the general manager of the Texada quarry. They said the operation is not expanding its footprint, but is removing a section of the aggregate plant on the inland side of the stockpile area. The amount of coal it will stockpile will essentially double, Kyne said.
In 2007, Lafarge upgraded its ship loader, which can handle over 10-million tonnes of material a year. Kyne said that capacity is currently under-utilized. “That’s the reason why we’re investigating options to expand our commodities or change the commodity mix that we have,” he said.
Currently, the company employs 90 people, a number that includes both management and hourly workers, at the quarry. If the proposal goes through, it expects to create 15 to 20 new positions, Balfe said.
Kyne said that 80 per cent of the work force lives on Texada and 20 per cent in Powell River. He described the new positions that would be created as well-paid and sustainable.
“There are studies out there that say for every aggregate job, you can add almost five trickle-down jobs to the community,” he said. “In this case, we’re not purporting that by any sense, but we do, wherever possible, use local contractors for support. Those 90 don’t include the vast number of contractors we use for maintenance, operations, electrical and supplies.”
Kyne pointed out that the quarry has safely stored and transported coal from the foreshore area for over 20 years. In 2013, the company has contracts to handle 1.3-million tonnes of coal.
“Texada quarry is an active mine site,” Kyne said. “We conduct blasting and crushing on the site and we’ve done safely so for over 100 years.”
Lafarge held what it billed as a public information meeting about its permit amendment on Aug. 19 at the Royal Canadian Legion in Van Anda on Texada. Over 130 participants attended, many of whom left angry and frustrated that the company chose an open house format.
George Smith travelled from Gibsons for the meeting, which he said was “chaotic” and a “one-sided propaganda show” designed to be non-functional.
Smith is a spokesperson for the Alliance 4 Democracy, which he said is concerned about the lack of democracy in the issue.
“The Alliance 4 Democracy is basically saying that we require that our government offer us a real opportunity for input, for a real opportunity for science, rather than just a bunch of baloney, to have an open process that’s not run by the company, but that’s run by respected people,” he said.
Jonathan Moser, Lafarge’s director of environment and public affairs for Western Canada, defended the meeting’s format, saying it was designed to be interactive and participants had an opportunity to speak to Lafarge employees individually, as well as fill out a feedback form, which will be forwarded to the ministry.
Moser also said he thought the evening was a great example of public engagement. “We’ve had an opportunity to hear from all sides of the equation and I think that’s all we could have expected,” he said.
When asked about the impact of burning coal on global warming, Moser wanted to keep the issue confined to the company’s permit amendment application. “Specific to this, it’s not about the burning of coal,” he said. “It’s about the logistics of the shipment of it and we’re one of the partners in this. We’ve been doing this for 20 years safely and we’ll continue to do that.”
People who were not able to attend the meeting still have time to comment on Lafarge’s permit amendment application. They should send their comments to the ministry, by email to SouthwestMinesDivision@gov.bc.ca.