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Coal barges nixed in FSD plan, Lafarge says 20 to 30 jobs gone

Salish Sea

Open barges will not be transporting four million tonnes of U.S. coal per year to Texada Island under a new plan announced May 4 by Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD).

Coal barging opponents were “cautiously optimistic” over the revised plan, which would see the same volume of coal loaded directly onto ocean-going ships in Surrey.

“I believe it’s very positive news for us,” Salish Sea Coal Committee spokeswoman Lynn Chapman said Monday. “But it’s not completely concluded, because they could still potentially consider doing some variation on this.”

If the plan is approved by Port Metro Vancouver, FSD said it intends to replace all barges with 80 ocean-going vessels per year, “but would retain barging as a potential secondary option.”

The announcement means the loss of up to 30 future jobs at Lafarge Canada’s loading facility on Texada Island, the company said Monday.

“The 15 to 20 jobs that the quarry anticipated as a result of the coal transloading project had not yet been hired and are no longer required,” Jennifer Lewis, Lafarge’s director of communications for Western Canada, said in an email.

“Lafarge played a logistics support role in FSD’s original plan, but the Massey Bridge announcement and changing business case for coal are significant impacts that we understand,” Lewis said.

“Our transloading facility continues to handle a variety of commodities, and we explore business opportunities regularly.”

While the shíshálh (Sechelt) First Nation and Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) staunchly opposed the original plan, the Powell River Regional District (PRRD) recommended it be allowed to proceed, subject to a series of conditions.

“Probably the most important one, we wanted an environmental oversight committee,” PRRD board chair Patrick Brabazon said. “If they went forward with proper health and environmental controls … I was willing to go along with it.”

Brabazon said existing jobs were lost already at the Lafarge facility on Texada, which would have been used to unload the barged coal and then reload it onto ships bound for Asia under the original plan.

“From an economic standpoint, it’s definitely a negative thing,” he said.

FSD cited “changes in commercial conditions” for its decision to amend the plan, but Chapman said she believed the Sunshine Coast opposition “played our part” in the decision as well.

“The economics, we said, were crazy economics, and they finally recognized it was crazy economics,” she said. “It wasn’t a viable way to export coal.”

Both the SCRD — through a Union of B.C. Municipalities resolution last year — and shíshálh Nation took strong stands against the coal barging scheme, with Chief Calvin Craigan (híwús) publicly vowing to set up a blockade on the barge route through traditional shíshálh territory.

“Calvin spoke up very strongly against this action. I think his and the Band’s support have been a real boost to our campaign,” Chapman said.

The blockade threat was, and still is, very real, she added.

“We are in the process of setting up a blockade notice for if and when. They know there will be a blockade and the blockade will be strong, both from the Band and the larger community.”

Chapman noted the change in plans “doesn’t change the fact that [FSD] will continue to export American coal and ignore climate change,” and said her committee would back the efforts of other affected community action groups to stop the practice.

“There’s vast amounts of opposition to this on the Lower Mainland,” she said.

FSD will accept public comments on its proposed changes until May 19 and will follow up with public consultation if the company submits the amendment to Port Metro Vancouver, which granted FSD a project permit last August.

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