Regulators delay Vancouver terminal decision, advance competing expansion


Proponents of a new Vancouver container terminal have received extra time to address what a government review deemed a “significant'' environmental impact, while a competing project has begun the start of its environmental review. 

Federal and provincial authorities on Sept. 28 gave the go-ahead to begin a public review of GCT Canada’s planned expansion of the Deltaport terminal. The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority had attempted to block the expansion project from being considered by environmental authorities, arguing it wasn’t environmentally feasible. But a change to Canadian federal law in August 2019 took such decisions out of the port authority’s purview, paving the way for federal and provincial authorities last week to formally begin the first of five regulatory phases. 

In the first phase to get final government approval for the GCT expansion, there will be a 45-day comment period and two virtual public meetings. GCT aims to begin construction on the Deltaport expansion in 2025 and begin bringing operations online starting early 2029. 

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s competing vision for a new container terminal will wait longer for authorities to give their final call.  The Minister of Environment and Climate Change on Aug. 28 told the port authority that it wouldn’t make a decision until next year on whether to allow construction to begin on the planned terminal, known as Roberts Bank 2 (RBT2). Minister Jonathan Wilkinson granted the port authority more time to address what a review panel said would be “significant adverse effects to fish and fish habitat” caused by constructing the new terminal. 

Need for 2 million TEU of annual capacity 

How the two projects proceed is critical to how the largest Canadian gateway meets the demand for approximately 2 million TEU in capacity within approximately 10 years. Without the new capacity, congestion flashpoints will increase and the port will find it even more challenging to recover from surges of cargo and poor weather. Ultimately, importers and exporters able to divert goods away from Vancouver will do so if congestion makes the port unattractive. 

To get that new capacity, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority argues the most viable way is building a 2.4 million TEU marine terminal for some $3 billion. GCT Canada, the port’s largest tenant and operator of two Vancouver facilities, argues the better path is to allow it to expand the Deltaport terminal by adding 2 million TEU in capacity at a cost of more than $1 billion. 

The port authority said it asked for more time to address the feedback it received from the environmental review panel report, as indigenous groups have asked for more time and the pandemic hampered discussion with them. It’s also taking additional time to provide information on how it would offset, avoid, and mitigate the impact of terminal construction and operation on migratory birds and indigenous populations, said Cliff Stewart, vice president of infrastructure at the port authority.

“We will look to provide this information to the government next year and are hopeful that a decision can be made soon after,” he said.

This article about Regulators delay Vancouver terminal decision, advance competing expansion by Mark Szakonyi originally appeared in Journal of Commerce on October 6, 2020. 

Watch: Environmental impacts of Port of Vancouver's Roberts Bank Terminal 2