Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s rush to build its own terminal project has potential to harm both environment and local port industry
Suppose you’ve applied for a permit for a variance to build an addition to your house. But instead of processing your application, the planning committee tells you that it won’t even consider it… because the municipality wants to build a publicly funded high-rise tower in a neighbouring park.
As far-fetched as that scenario may sound, it pretty much sums up the situation faced by Global Container Terminals (GCT) as it seeks a fair regulatory review of its Canadian Deltaport Fourth Berth Expansion (DP4) project at Roberts Bank in Delta, B.C.
The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (VFPA) is the government agency that happens to be both regulator and landlord at Roberts Bank. Instead of unbiasedly performing its regulatory functions, the VFPA has decided to enter the terminal development business, while stalling the application process for private sector competitors.
The VFPA’s proposed project is Roberts Bank Terminal 2 (RBT2). As described, the project has attracted considerable environmental, Indigenous and public opposition and little to no commercial interest from terminal operators. It involves the construction of a new terminal island on the ocean floor with a footprint of 164 hectares — the size of well over 300 CFL football fields — in the middle of a complex and fragile ecosystem. The island has the potential to disrupt the migratory routes of orcas, disturb the biofilm on which local and migratory bird species thrive and displace traditional Indigenous crabbing grounds.
While the VFPA is framing its RBT2 project as an urgent matter, Doron Grosman, president and chief executive officer of GCT, notes that increased port capacity won’t be required until 2029 at the earliest. The VFPA bringing that costly capacity online may have negative impacts on all port businesses.
“The VFPA is not responding to any crisis of capacity with RBT2,” he says. “The fact that the regulator wants to use its unique powers to force its way into the private sector terminal market creates huge potential risks and downsides for both businesses and taxpayers. Even more concerning is the fact that the VFPA has used its position as a regulator to shut down a review process to which we were entitled, simply because it wanted to pursue RBT2.”
GCT has been working to advance its DP4 project in dialogue with the VFPA for the past four years. However, following submission of GCT’s preliminary project enquiry – the first formal step in the VFPA’s approval process – it received a letter from the VFPA on March 1, 2019 stating:
“…the RBT2 Project is our preferred project for expansion of capacity at Roberts Bank. You must understand that your DP4 proposal, even if it is able to receive the necessary environmental and regulatory approvals, could only be considered as subsequent and incremental to the RBT2 Project.”
“This is a clear conflict of interest,” says Grosman. “There is clear bias on part of the VFPA as a regulator for DP4.”
The RBT2 Project was originally conceived almost two decades ago. Since 2003, the VFPA has spent hundreds of millions of dollars promoting its advancement. Projected costs put the construction budget at anywhere from $2.5 to $3 billion in public funds.
“DP4, on the other hand, will be funded privately at no risk to taxpayers,” says Grosman. “It will cover only 56 hectares — one third the size of the RBT2 proposal — and it will offer gradual phased expansion to align with the expected 2029 demand requirements. We have already developed a reputation for delivering environmentally conscious port expansions and sustainable operations. DP4, for example, is looking to expand into waters where almost no biofilm has been identified.”
“If any of these issues resonate with stakeholders, we encourage them to find out more about our project and the reasons why we’re concerned about what’s happening at the regulatory level,” says Grosman. “We have plenty of time and capability to bring new capacity on board in an environmentally responsible manner. We have time and we should insist on getting this right.”
This article by Peter Kenter originally appeared in the Vancouver Sun on September 30, 2019.