The challenger to the Port of Vancouver’s plans to expand capacity for container trade at Roberts Bank has cleared a hurdle to advance its own proposal.
The B.C. Environmental Assessment Agency recently sent GCT Global Container Terminals’ Deltaport Expansion/Berth 4 proposal for public comment after accepting the company’s detailed project description for evaluation under a joint assessment plan with the federal Impact Assessment Agency.
“So far, we think the process is working well,” said Marko Dekovic, GCT’s vice-president of public affairs, though it isn’t clear the $1.6-billion proposal will get a more favourable reception from those who have opposed the Port of Vancouver’s own $3.5 billion Roberts Bank Terminal 2 proposal.
In south Delta where the Fraser River meets the Strait of Georgia, Roberts Bank is already home to Deltaport, the Port of Vancouver’s biggest container terminal and where the port authority wants to absorb anticipated growth in Asia-Pacific container trade.
Berth 4 would involve filling in an additional 54 hectares at the existing Deltaport terminal that GCT operates, to accommodate an additional two million 20-foot-equivalent containers each year, which the company argues is an incremental expansion with less environmental impact that can be built sooner than the port’s Terminal 2 proposal.
“It would be premature to say” what the biggest environmental concern will be from its idea for filling in an additional 54 hectares of Roberts Bank, Dekovic said.
That will come through public concerns raised in the public engagement process, Dekovic said, which will help establish the scope for Berth 4’s full environmental assessment.
To date, GCT’s initial project description elicited concerns about the project’s impacts on critical habitat for species such as salmon, killer whales and shore birds, according to a joint summary of issues submitted by the federal and provincial agencies.
The Tsawwassen First Nation, one of the 30 Indigenous nations consulted in the process cited likely adverse effects on its treaty rights to fish and harvest crab, migratory birds and wildlife as well as its ability to access harvest areas.
For conservation groups that oppose the Port of Vancouver’s proposal to use fill to create a 104-hectare new island in the estuary, Berth 4’s smaller footprint isn’t a better alternative.
“Any expansion is going to add further pollution, further habitat loss and more trucks going through Delta and the Lower Mainland,” said Susan Jones, a director with the Boundary Bay Conservation Committee.
Jones argued that the builders of Roberts Bank and adjacent B.C. Ferries terminal at Tsawwassen haven’t adequately mitigated environmental damage from their initial construction
“Berth 4 is located in a position where Fisheries and Oceans Canada said in early 2003-2004, you can’t build there,” Jones added, due to additional impacts in the waters between Roberts Bank and the causeway to the B.C. Ferries terminal.
Jones’ group argue that the Port of Vancouver hadn’t made a strong enough case for the need to expand container capacity at Roberts Bank in its response to the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 environmental assessment, a position she said also applies to Berth 4.
“Experts have advised you (should expand) Prince Rupert first before Vancouver because of the horrible congestion in Vancouver,” Jones said.
GCT remains in Federal Court with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, which oversees the Port of Vancouver and is GCT’s landlord, with its argument for fair consideration of the Berth 4 proposal, which the port initially dismissed.
The court held a four-day hearing of the arguments in that case and Dekovic said the parties are awaiting a decision, which could take up to six months.
In the meantime, the Port of Vancouver completed its own environmental assessment for Terminal 2 in 2020, which then environment minister John Wilkinson sent back with additional questions government wanted answered.
Port spokeswoman Rebecca Abel said answering the questions involved more than a year of additional technical work and consultations with Indigenous groups, but it submitted its response this summer.
“We are hopeful that a decision will be made as quickly as possible,” Abel said by email.
This article originally titled Port of Vancouver's Roberts Bank rival clears hurdle in assessment of container proposal written by Derrick Penner was originally published in the Vancouver Sun.
Watch: GCT Deltaport Berth 4: a smart port expansion for BC and Canada