Roberts Bank container cargo terminal battle: Round 3
The six-week round of Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) public hearings is over, but the controversy surrounding options for container terminal expansion at the Port of Vancouver’s Roberts Bank is not.
In its latest skirmish with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (VFPA), GCT Global Container Terminals Inc. asked the independent review panel for the CEAA – now called the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada – to consider whether the port authority breached a section of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (now the Impact Assessment Act) by knowingly making false or misleading statements during the hearings.
GCT operates the GCT Deltaport container terminal at Roberts Bank, where both it and its VFPA landlord have competing plans to expand container-handling capacity.
GCT claims the VFPA initially rejected GCT’s expansion plan, which is cheaper and would add container-handling capacity incrementally rather than in one large chunk, so the port authority can proceed with its more ambitious Terminal 2 project.
The VFPA has maintained that GCT’s plan is not environmentally viable and would give one terminal operator too much control over the port’s container terminal services.
Public environmental assessment hearings into the proposed $3 billion Terminal 2 project were conducted in May and June. The review panel is now preparing its report for the minister of environment and climate change.
The hearings are part of the more than 440 public meetings, 12 public open houses and four rounds of public consultation that the VFPA has participated in since 2011 for its proposed mega-container terminal project.
But aside from the environmental concerns raised from several quarters over Terminal 2, the VFPA has been embroiled in a long-simmering controversy with GCT, its largest container terminal tenant, over how best to expand container cargo capacity at Roberts Bank.
Delays in Terminal 2 approval have also scuppered the VFPA’s original procurement process to build and operate the terminal. Its search for a terminal operator began in 2013, when the VFPA expected the federal environmental assessment process to be completed by 2016.
But Kristina Driedger, VFPA senior communications adviser, stated in an email that, because “procurement decisions are informed by market conditions [and] since so much time has elapsed, we think it is prudent to re-assess these conditions and re-evaluate procurement options for both construction of the land mass and terminal operations, to be sure we are pursuing the right model for Canada.”
However, in a December 2 statement, GCT maintained that “the failure of the VFPA to obtain a commitment from terminal operators only serves to reinforce that [Terminal 2] is the wrong solution for developing container capacity on Canada’s West Coast.”
In late March, GCT filed an application seeking a judicial review of the VFPA’s refusal to process the company’s preliminary project inquiry to expand its GCT Deltaport container terminal. The application claimed that the VFPA failed to provide the information required to justify Terminal 2 and is pursuing the project based on flawed data and a biased rationale. In addition to Deltaport, GCT operates Vancouver’s Vanterm container terminal.
In its Federal Court application, GCT claimed the VFPA rejected the company’s request to process its preliminary project inquiry to add a fourth container berth at GCT Deltaport (DP4) because the port authority is biased in favour of Terminal 2. DP4’s estimated cost would be around $1 billion.
GCT also raised the issue during the recent environmental assessment hearings.
The VFPA has argued that the GCT expansion plan is a non-starter because Fisheries and Oceans Canada “has prohibited further land reclamation inland from Deltaport, due to environmental sensitivity.”
The port authority also wants a third major container terminal operator in Vancouver to ensure that the port’s container-shipping customers continue to pay what the VFPA’s vice-president of planning and operations, Peter Xotta, has said are “reasonable rates for reliable service.”
But following the conclusion of the recent environmental assessment hearings, the VFPA had second thoughts about its decision to reject consideration of GCT’s Deltaport expansion plan.
In a September 23 letter to GCT president and CEO Doron Grosman, VFPA president and CEO Robin Silvester stated that the port authority had decided to rescind its decision to reject consideration of GCT’s preliminary inquiry for DP4.
Silvester’s letter stated that the decision was based in part on information made available to the VFPA during the review panel process.
However, he reiterated port concerns over the risks DP4 posed to Roberts Bank fish habitat and the container-shipping control and competitiveness issues behind the VFPA’s original decision to reject consideration of the plan.
In a September 27 response letter, Grosman noted that the timing of the VFPA’s decision to reconsider DP4, which came after the August 27 closure of the public record for the project’s environmental assessment, “does not affect our conclusion that GCT cannot receive a fair consideration of any approvals for DP4 … by [the] VFPA.”
GCT subsequently requested that the review panel include the VFPA’s about-face decision in the public record for the Terminal 2 environmental assessment hearings.
Its request noted that the VFPA’s DP4 reconsideration contradicts “the statements and submissions made by the proponent during the project’s public hearings … regarding the viability of the Deltaport Fourth Berth Project.”
But the review panel has rejected GCT’s request to include additional information in the hearing’s public record.
In a November 18 letter to GCT, review panel chairwoman Jocelyne Beaudet said the panel is confident it has enough information to make decisions and forward recommendations to the federal environment minister on Terminal 2 and alternative plans for expanding container-handling capacity at Roberts Bank.
Beaudet also rejected GCT’s “serious allegation” that the port authority knowingly provided misleading information at the CEAA review panel hearings.
She said GCT had not provided specifics to support its claims nor had it provided any submissions “on how such alleged false or misleading information was ‘knowingly’ made before the closing of the public record.”
Marko Dekovic, GCT’s vice-president of public affairs, said in an email that the company is drafting a letter outlining all instances of where the VFPA misled the review panel.
The letter was not available at press time.
This article by Timothy Renshaw originally appeared in Business in Vancouver on December 9, 2019.