Environmentalists are urging the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) to join forces with Metro Vancouver and lobby the provincial government for a full assessment of the impacts from a massive increase in U.S. coal shipments to Texada Island.
"We think it's important that we work as part of a larger coalition," Lynn Chapman of the Salish Sea Coal Committee told the SCRD board at its Feb. 27 meeting.
Formed last November, the committee is asking the SCRD and Metro Vancouver to set up a meeting with provincial Health Minister Terry Lake and Environment Minister Mary Polak, and to invite the Sechelt Indian Band (SIB) to take part.
The meeting would be to lobby for provincial health and environmental reviews of "the coal transportation from the Fraser Surrey Docks until it leaves B.C. waters, and to address the concerns of an inadequate environmental and health impact assessment completed by the port authority."
A proper assessment, Chapman said, should spell out the amount of coal that would be lost in transport to Texada and during offloading and reloading, the environmental impact of that loss, and the effects of increased barge traffic on marine life in the Salish Sea.
"There are a lot of unanswered questions that need to be addressed," Chapman said.
The proposal would expand the existing Lafarge Canada quarry on Texada to handle up to eight million tonnes a year of thermal coal by 2020 - a 20-fold increase from the current 400,000 tonnes. The coal would be shipped from the U.S. by train to the Fraser Surrey Docks terminal and then barged up the Salish Sea to Texada, where it would be stored and then transferred to deep-sea freighters for export to Asia.
The lack of consultation for communities along the route has been strongly criticized by the SIB, Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons, environmental groups, provincial health officials and the SCRD.
Chapman commended the SCRD for its recent resolution on the issue to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities, and asked the board to draft a similar resolution to the Union of B.C. Municipalities, adding a request for enforcement as well as ongoing monitoring if the project goes ahead.
The board agreed to discuss the request at its March 20 planning and development committee meeting.
SIB Chief Garry Feschuk told Chapman that he supported the group's efforts, but noted that a reference in her presentation to SIB as stakeholders was incorrect.
"We are not stakeholders," Feschuk said. "This is our territory."
The SIB has written to the province expressing its concerns, he added. "Where those barges are going, we know all our major salmon runs come through that channel."
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