A coal train passing through White Rock bound for Westshore Terminals. A planned new export terminal is to be built at Fraser Surrey Docks.

A coal train passing through White Rock bound for Westshore Terminals. A planned new export terminal is to be built at Fraser Surrey Docks.

Coal export scrutiny urged by cities

UBCM hears concerns on Fraser Surrey Docks coal terminal that would send barges to Texada Island

A planned new coal export terminal in Surrey has prompted a call for closer scrutiny of the project from B.C. municipal leaders.

Union of B.C. Municipalities delegates voted Thursday to urge a full environmental and health impact assessment of the planned Fraser Surrey Docks project, and that a federal or provincial agency be named to monitor the barge shipments of coal through the Fraser River delta to Texada Island.

Port Metro Vancouver approved the project in August and Fraser Surrey Docks intends to soon begin construction on the Surrey terminal, which would receive four million tonnes of U.S. thermal coal by rail through White Rock and reload it to barges.

The project has been under fire for months from local groups concerned about the escape of coal dust as well as climate change activists who want to keep U.S. coal from being burned in Asia.

Donna Shugar, a Sunshine Coast Regional District director, said there’s no provision so far for environmental monitoring of the barge shipments to Texada, where the coal would be stockpiled and again transferred to ocean-going ships.

The resolution was amended to target only exports of thermal coal and not the metallurgical coal that is mined in B.C. after concern from Kootenay politicians that it could threaten local coal mining jobs.

“This is a big portion of our provincial economy that actually works right now,” Fernie Coun. Phil Iddon cautioned.

New Westminster Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said thermal coal, besides being a worse source of carbon emissions, is much more volatile.

“It literally ignites by itself,” he told the convention.

Puchmayr raised the spectre of an out-of-control coal fire that might “burn for months” in the middle of Metro Vancouver if the terminal is allowed to stockpile coal – something both the terminal operator and the port have promised won’t happen.

He argued the Texada transshipment point could become redundant after the Massey Tunnel is replaced with a bridge.

“I worry that once the Deas Island tunnel comes out that these freighters will come directly up the Fraser River.”

Other resolutions endorsed by UBCM Thursday included:

– A request that health authority boards be required to include elected regional district directors to ensure public accountability.

– Maple Ridge’s call for the province to develop a stewardship program to take back used mattresses that are often dumped, increasing costs for local cities.

– A Vancouver motion seeking local power to make builders provide energy efficiency benchmarking information on homes as a tool to help combat climate change.