Second container port puts too much at risk: T2 would have negative environmental impact

November 18th, 2016
by Vicki Huntington
People in South Delta are by now all too familiar with the commercial and industrial development that is encroaching on our community. It has become a fact of life and is unfortunately putting extraordinary pressure not only on agriculture, but also on environmentally sensitive areas.

The Port of Vancouver's Terminal 2 project (T2), at Deltaport, represents yet another chapter in this ongoing saga.

Recently, my office submitted 35 pages of comments on the port's Terminal 2 proposal to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) as part of the latest stage of environmental review. Essentially, the federal government is determining whether the thousands of pages of information and analysis, provided by the port, are "sufficient."

There are many significant shortcomings in the port's submission, but one critical gap is the lack of any review of T2's effects on agricultural land. Terminal 2 is inextricably linked to future development of agricultural lands, and pretending otherwise is ignoring reality.

The port says 2,500 acres of industrial land need to be developed to meet trade growth demands in the region, and a recent study for the port concluded T2 will increase demand for industrial land by up to 30 per cent.

We know, too, that the port has significant agricultural holdings in Richmond, and that there are $50 million of active options to purchase ALR land in Delta: the industrial developer's explicit intent is to build a truck and rail intermodal yard.

On top of this, BC Rail owns 159 acres of ALR land along Deltaport Way as part of its mandate to "acquire and hold railway corridor and strategic port lands."

So while the port is now saying - despite previous comments to the contrary - that new industrial land will not have to come at the expense of farmland, it is impossible to see any alternative. It is my strongly held opinion there must be an agricultural impact assessment of T2.

Perhaps the most important revelations of all are found in Environment and Climate Change Canada's (ECCC) extensive submission to CEAA. It warns that T2 could have significant "species-level consequences" on migratory birds such as the Western sandpiper, and that "there is insufficient, science-based information to support [the port's] finding that [T2] would not negatively impact migratory shorebirds." The department found "substantive issues, omissions, and uncertainties" in the port's environmental impact statement.

The ECCC observes that Roberts Bank is critically important habitat for migratory shorebirds that feed off the biofilm deposited over the mudflats. The rich mass of diatoms on the Fraser delta is essential fuel for their long journey from South America to Alaska.

The conditions at Roberts Bank are unique, and if the biofilm is compromised, there are no equivalent habitats along the Fraser River estuary to support these great migrations. And to that end, ECCC warns that T2 will bring "changes in biofilm, which would likely be immediate and irreversible."

That warning should give us all pause to consider what this project really represents to our community and to the world. To me it is clear: T2 puts too much at risk and should not go forward.

Article originally appeared in the Delta Optimist