The Trans Mountain Pipeline, the Coastal Gaslink and the Teck Frontier Mine are all grabbing the environmental headlines, but another environmental disaster is unfolding which is flying under the radar.
The Roberts Bank Terminal 2 (T2) review panel will soon hand down its decision - perhaps as early as March 2. If the panel and then the Liberal government approves the project - which is what we fear - then Roberts Bank will be lost as a major Important Bird Area for hundreds of thousands of birds.
It will also be lost as crucial feeding and rearing grounds for salmon, herring, crabs and other wildlife, not to mention the endangered southern resident killer whales.
This will be one of the rare occasions where the government ignores its own scientists and instead relies on the paid-for, partisan, non-peer-reviewed science of the project developer (Vancouver Fraser Port Authority).
Government scientists have been very clear. They have stated categorically that in their scientific opinion they characterize: “… the project’s residual adverse impacts on biofilm due to predicted changes in salinity as potentially high in magnitude, permanent, irreversible, and, continuous”. They go on to state that the “... impacts to biofilm could potentially implicate the long-term viability of Western Sandpipers as a species.” And furthermore that these negative impacts cannot be mitigated.
So if the Liberal government approves the project, what will the government scientists at Environment Canada - who are the regulators - now do?
Will the scientists take action to stop the port authority from moving ahead with the project? Will they be permitted to continue to challenge the port authority?
Or will the non-scientist bureaucrats in Ottawa prevent their scientists from taking any further action and therefore allow the port authority to decimate the most important bird area on the whole of the west coast of North America?
There is no point in the government scientists being told to monitor this industrial development. They have already indicated the negative impacts will be immediate, permanent and continuous. So mitigation after the damage has been done is a waste of time.
The port authority has a huge lobby in Ottawa. So the fact this $3.5-billion project - the most expensive terminal development anywhere in the world - that has been panned by both Environment Canada and international experts in wetlands (who are independent of the port authority), as well as many major Canadian and international environmental groups, is of no consequence to the port authority.
Nor is the fact there is plenty of West Coast container terminal capacity - in operation or planned - sufficient for Canada’s trading needs for many years to come. No, the port authority denies the existence of this new capacity and relies on its own inflated volume forecasts, despite the fact it has missed every one of its last five forecasts and has significantly underperformed.
How badly has it underperformed? From 2018 to 2019 container growth was flat, yet Prince Rupert volumes grew by 17 per cent over the same period. The port authority has a dismal compound annual growth rate over the last 11 years of 2.6 per cent, way below the industry average.
No, the port authority is using its clout in Ottawa to persuade the government to use taxpayer funds to build a container terminal which will destroy the very crucible of the Fraser River and estuary.
The port authority is not waiting for approvals. According to a recent secret port authority document they have already started the process to select a developer and operator. That secret document says that construction will start at the end of 2021 and go on for seven years.
Are you ready for seven years of construction noise, air pollution and more traffic chaos at the Massey Tunnel? Are you ready for the increase in night time lighting? Are you ready for a doubling of port truck and rail traffic? Are you ready to look out over a massive new container terminal rather than viewing wildlife as you walk along the foreshore?
Will the environment minister stand up to the port authority and deny it the right to decimate Roberts Bank, or is the port authority so powerful it can do as it pleases with our environment and taxpayer funds?
This article by Roger Emsley originally appeared in the Delta Optimist on February 19, 2020.