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Rural directors support coal expansion

Planning committee recommends environmental monitoring
Laura Walz

A recommendation to support an application for increased coal storage on Texada Island has been referred to the September Powell River Regional District board meeting.

Rural directors discussed an application from Lafarge Canada Ltd. to amend its permit at the September 10 planning committee. Four electoral area directors make up the committee and they voted to recommend the board advise the ministry of energy and mines that the regional district supports Lafarge’s application, subject to “rigorous and ongoing environmental monitoring by the province to mitigate potential impacts of coal dust on human health and the marine environment.”

Lafarge’s application is part of a plan by Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD) to build coal-handling facilities within its existing terminal operations that would allow the direct transfer of coal from trains originating in the United States to barges, which would transport the coal up the Strait of Georgia to Lafarge’s Texada quarry for transshipment to Asia.

Colin Palmer, board chair and Electoral Area C director, said he was born in a coal-mining town, his great-grandfather, grandfather and his uncle were all coal miners and his wife’s family were coal miners as well. “Storing coal is no big deal as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “We stored it in our house for years, then we took it out of there and burned it. That’s how we lived.”

Palmer pointed out that Catalyst Paper Corporation has had an air quality monitoring program for years and makes public the results on a regular basis. “We can’t tell them what to do, but I think Lafarge would be wise to produce the third-party results of the monitoring, which is what Catalyst does,” he said. “As far as other issues are concerned, Americans moving coal through Canada and burning it in China and India, I think those kind of protests should be down at the Chinese consulate and Indian consulate in Vancouver or Ottawa. This is beyond our level.”

Andre Balfe, general manager of Lafarge’s Texada quarry, attended the planning committee meeting and outlined the company’s proposal to double its capacity for storing coal, up to 800,000 tonnes. He explained that the company has extensive environmental monitoring in place and its application has been referred to the ministries of environment and health as well. He expects those agencies to have recommendations for the company.

Palmer encouraged Balfe to put in place a monitoring program. “It really tones down any concerns and it also tones down any wild comments about what the results are,” he said. “There are people out there who can invent anything.”

Electoral Area A Director Patrick Brabazon said he would support Lafarge’s application if the company would commit to an annual public statement of the monitoring results.

Balfe said the company has talked about it with the ministry of energy and mines. “I think that’s going to be a recommendation,” he said. “We have nothing to hide. We’re very responsible with what we do. The safety of our employees and our community is very dear to us.”

The committee’s recommendation is expected to be on the agenda for the September 26 regional board meeting.

Meanwhile, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority has requested that FSD conduct an environmental impact assessment of its proposed coal export facility. FSD is to hire its own consultant, complete the study in just over two weeks and then provide it to the port authority for comment from the public.

The assessment would not include impacts on the Strait of Georgia or Texada Island, said Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, even though the assessment is looking at the barges going up to the mouth of the Fraser. “They say it’s not in their jurisdiction, but that really doesn’t make sense because they already set a precedent by demanding that Fraser Surrey Docks looks at the impact from coal trains from the border, and that’s not part of the port’s jurisdiction either,” he said. “I don’t get this arbitrary cut-off at the mouth of the Fraser, because folks on Texada and Lasqueti and in the strait deserve the same review as everyone else, even if it is inadequate.”