So the public process train on community consultation for proposed development of a new container terminal at Roberts Bank has rolled into town. The independent federal review panel is here to listen to all sides of the arguments that building a new island next to the existing Deltaport facility called Terminal 2 is needed.
I must admit I have a unique interest that goes beyond being a Tsawwassen resident. In past I was intimately involved as a consultant in the development of Deltaport and a decade later served on the board of what was then the Vancouver Port Corporation.
Building a major container facility is not for the faint of heart. It is fraught with significant environmental and economic challenges. In 1997, Deltaport was opened in response to an overwhelming tide of globalism, a trade tsunami about to hit the shores of North America that would require a substantial bulking up of container handling terminals in order to handle the volumes to come.
The ports of Seattle, Portland and San Francisco were ill-prepared and the largest competitor, Long Beach, was already at crush point capacity with no land to spare.
Building Deltaport was an ideal opportunity to put our port in the driver’s seat for this new business. As has been said, we built it and they came. So much so, additional infrastructure was added to the existing Lower Mainland terminals and eventually a container terminal was built in Prince Rupert.
So, in looking at the Terminal 2 proposal, my concerns lie squarely on the business case. We are witnessing an unprecedented worldwide change in political and economic relations between United States, China and Canada. Tariffs, embargoes and outright abandonment of previous trade agreements prevail that all contribute to trade uncertainty.
Add to this the tepid growth projections of the port’s own analysis that seem to indicate this terminal would operate in the red for several years before hitting break-even.
The port currently has four container terminals that collectively move 3.3 million containers a year. T2 would increase that capacity to 5.7 million containers but would require an additional $3+ billion in borrowing authority from the port and backed by the Canadian taxpayer who will also assume all the risk.
Further, T2 would be operated by a contracted terminal operator who would be nothing more than that, a tenant that leaves the landlord, the Canadian taxpayer, with all the downstream risk.
Furthermore, I would like to understand why the present operator of Deltaport, a Canadian company, is being frozen out by the port authority from the option of participation in the development of their own proposed Deltaport Berth 4.
Not only is building Berth 4 at Deltaport a better, incremental option that would handle new volumes for the foreseeable future, it does so without risk to the taxpayer because the present operator of Deltaport is willing to build it entirely at their cost yet the port says no.
Building Berth 4 is a more sensible, incremental approach to building capacity particularly when the bill is footed by an experienced Canadian company rather than the roll the dice on a grander and more tenuous plan that comes entirely at risk to the pockets of the Canadian taxpayer.
Steve Simpson is a resident of Tsawwassen, a former consultant on the Deltaport container terminal and former director of the Vancouver Port Corporation.
This article by Steve Simpson originally appeared in the Delta Optimist on June 3, 2019.