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Rural directors support coal expansion proposal

Elected officials say Texadas OCP supports industrial activity
Laura Walz

In the face of a strong show of opposition, Powell River Regional District rural directors voted to support Lafarge Canada Inc.’s proposal to expand coal storage at its Texada Island quarry.

About 60 people attended the regional board’s meeting on Thursday evening, September 26, held in the lower level of the Royal Canadian Legion. Many wore protective face masks and held up signs that read “No US Thermal Coal,” “No Coal” and “No Coal Exports.” Nine people, including Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons, addressed the board, asking directors not to vote in favour of the proposal, which is part of a plan by Fraser Surrey Docks 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. Lafarge plans to expand the area that is used to stockpile and transship coal so it can handle 800,000 tonnes annually.

CaroleAnn Leishman, from Pebble in the Pond Environmental Society, made the longest presentation, documenting the concerns, which include negative impacts to water and air quality from coal dust as well as the large vessels used to ship the coal to Asia. She also pointed out the regional district adopted the Sustainability Charter for Powell River and Region that sets out parameters and guidelines for local government to utilize in making decisions. “The possibility of blowing coal dust contaminating our pristine air and water is not only a possibility but a likelihood if this project expansion proceeds,” she said. “What do you imagine the economic implications will be to our area if the salmon die off because coal dust and run-off contaminates the foreshore around Texada and Lasqueti islands killing off the eelgrass where the herring spawn?”

Leishman also read a resolution from the Powell River Sunshine Coast New Democratic Party (NDP) Constituency Association opposing United States thermal coal transshipments, which has been forwarded to the BC NDP Convention, as well as a letter signed by 34 physicians, professors and professionals calling on the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to scrap its recently announced environmental impact assessment for Fraser Surrey Docks and work with key stakeholders to develop the terms of reference and scope for a proper environmental impact assessment and a comprehensive health impact assessment. As well, Leishman documented the opposition to the proposal she had collected in just a week and a half, which included over 600 signatures on a petition. 

When the motion to support Lafarge’s application came up on the agenda, Russell Brewer, the alternate director to City of Powell River Councillor Maggie Hathaway who is a regional district director, made a motion to refer the motion to the committee-of-the-whole meeting, but his motion was defeated.

Rural directors from Electoral Areas A, B, C and D voted on the motion, because they are part of the regional district’s planning function. City directors don’t participate in that function, since the city has its own planning department, and neither does Lasqueti, which has its planning under the Islands Trust. 

The motion stated: “That the board concur with the recommendation of the planning committee to advise the ministry of energy and mines that the Powell River Regional District supports the application to expand coal storage area at Lafarge Texada quarry subject to rigorous and ongoing environmental monitoring by the province to mitigate potential impacts of coal dust on human health and the marine environment.”

Texada Director Dave Murphy pointed out that the referral from the ministry of energy and mines is asking if Lafarge’s application contravenes or is in conflict with any bylaws or zoning. “That’s what they’re basically asking from us,” he said. “In this case, no it doesn’t.”

Texada’s official community plan (OCP) embraces mining activity on the island, Murphy said. “It actually applauds and celebrates the fact there is expansion and job creation,” he said.

Provincial ministries as well as the federal government deal with the primary issues people brought up, Murphy added, and people should bring their concerns to them. “I agree with the application,” he said. “I support it.” 

He has spoken to the quarry manager, who said there will be 10 to 15 jobs created, Murphy said. “That’s $750,000 into our community and the community of Powell River,” he said. “Those are $25-an-hour jobs.”

Colin Palmer, board chair and Electoral Area C director, said he has to respect the Texada OCP. “The official community plan is a bylaw,” he said. “It was drawn up by the people of Texada over a period of two years.”

Texada’s OCP is “very different” from other OCPs in the region, he said. “It very strongly supports economic development, quarries, et cetera,” he said. “It has no objection to that kind of activity, however the OCP does have provisos that there be strong environmental controls as a result of the mining on the island.”

Brewer pointed out that the application is inconsistent with the sustainability charter, because it’s linked to the global export of coal. “The sustainability charter promotes consideration for how actions and choices impact global sustainability,” he said. Brewer also said that the Texada OCP also promotes a consideration of climate change in all land use decisions. 

The sustainability charter is policy, Brewer said, and the issue is not just a jobs-versus-environment issue. “It’s a jobs and environment issue,” he said. “We need to consider both. Obviously, I can’t vote on it, but I would just like you to consider that the sustainability charter is really what should be our primary directive for everything else we consider.”

Electoral Area A Director Patrick Brabazon made a motion to amend the resolution by adding the phrase: “and that the results of said monitoring be presented and clearly explained to the community at quarterly meetings of an advisory committee supported by the applicant.” Brabazon explained he thought Lafarge should set up a community advisory committee, similar to the one established by Catalyst Paper Corporation.

His amendment was accepted and on the amended motion, Murphy, Palmer, Brabazon and Ted Belyea, alternate director for Area B Director Stan Gisborne, voted in favour of it.

Many people in the audience yelled “Shame, shame,” after the vote.