The Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) board has added its voice to the growing chorus of opposition against plans for a 20-fold increase in coal shipments to and from Texada Island.
Concerned about the potential health and environmental impacts of coal dust from increased barge traffic, directors are calling for a full environmental assessment “to allow for comprehensive public input from people along the entire route.”
The resolution, adopted by the board’s planning and development committee on Nov. 21, follows Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons’ call for the province to extend public consultation on the proposal to include Coast residents.
In a recent letter to Environment Minister Mary Polak, Simons pointed out that Port Metro Vancouver is both the landlord and approving agency for the proposal by Fraser Surrey Docks to increase the amount of coal shipped annually to Texada Island, from the current 400,000 tonnes to eight million tonnes by 2020.
Under the proposal, coal trains from Montana and Wyoming would dump their loads onto barges at a new transfer facility on the Fraser River. The coal would be barged to Lafarge Canada’s quarry operation on Texada Island and then loaded onto bulk cargo ships bound for Asia.
“This project may impact residents of the Sunshine Coast, but so far none of the studies and no consultations have taken place beyond the sand heads at the mouth of the Fraser River — the limits of Port Metro Vancouver’s jurisdiction,” Simons said. “The first 34 kilometres represent a fraction of the project; residents of Texada Island and the Sunshine Coast should have a voice in the other part of the project.”
With no agency taking the lead in protecting the Coast’s interests, Simons urged the Ministry of Environment to “take on that responsibility and address the legitimate questions about the proposed project, if not from a global or even provincial perspective, at least from a regional and local level.”
Simons’ letter calls for a navigational risk assessment, environmental management plan, health impact assessment and full public consultation before any decision is made.
Environmental groups have also raised alarms over the proposal, and about 200 people filled the Sechelt Indian Band Hall on Nov. 23 for a community forum dubbed The Coal Hard Facts, sponsored by Alliance 4 Democracy Sunshine Coast, Sunshine Coast Conservation Association and Sunshine Coast Senior Citizens.
Among the speakers was Dr. Frank James, a health officer in Washington state and founding member of an alliance of more than 200 Whatcom County medical doctors opposed to coal shipments in Puget Sound.
The Sunshine Coast’s medical health officer, Dr. Paul Martiquet, has also expressed strong concerns about the proposal, joining his colleagues from the Lower Mainland in calling for a health impact assessment.
“We believe it is extremely important in addressing questions from both the public and local government about the potential health impacts of expanded coal storage, transport and shipment throughout each geographical area,” Martiquet wrote to the Ministry of Energy and Mines, which is reviewing some aspects of the proposal.
A citizens’ group called Coal Dust Free Salish Sea is also urging Polak to order an environmental assessment, saying it would be “unacceptable” to allow the project to go ahead without one.
“Local governments, First Nations, recreational boaters, shellfish harvesters, fishing groups and residents of the Salish Sea basin all expect this government to ensure that major industrial projects posing significant risks to public safety and health are properly and fully assessed before they proceed,” Andrew Fall and Donald Gordon said in a letter co-signed by seven environmental groups from the region.
“That clearly is not happening here, due to an unintended loophole in the law.”
At the Nov. 21 SCRD meeting, board chair Garry Nohr told directors that Chief Garry Feschuk had indicated the shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation was also supporting the SCRD’s call for an environmental assessment.
“Their concern is their fishing rights and dust settling on the Salish Sea and the effects it will have on their fishing,” Nohr said.
Wind direction is a particularly significant factor, Gibsons alternate director Lee Ann Johnson said.
“This Coast could bear the brunt of the coal dust. It’s blowing in our direction,” she said.
“I would really like to take a strong stand against this,” Elphinstone director Lorne Lewis said. “I see only environmental jeopardy for the Sunshine Coast.”
The board resolution also calls for a comprehensive economic impact study to “assess what benefits would accrue to local communities.”