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Airport fuel opponents say politics behind environmental approval
Opponents of a project that will put fuel tankers on the Fraser River to supply the Vancouver Airport with jet fuel are accusing the province of politically manipulating the environmental process.
Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington said Friday (Dec. 13) that she has documents which contradict the province's portrayal of the Environmental Assessment process which led to approval of the Vancouver Airport Fuel Delivery Project.
“The approval decision was not a surprise,” she said. “The project was a done deal from the start. Only the ministers could stop it. And contrary to the environment minister’s line repeated throughout the media, alternate fuel delivery options were never considered."
Huntington said alternative options were available, such as the one recommended by the Vancouver Airport Fuel Project Opposition for Richmond (VAPOR) which favours a land-based pipeline.
"The health and safety of the world’s largest salmon river and Canada’s largest waterfowl overwintering area and the safety of the public and their property has been largely ignored by the B.C. government and the Government of Canada which has played an invisible role in this environmental review process," said VAPOR vice president Otto Langer.
Langer said the environmental assessment took over 1,000 days to produce a result and involved no public hearings.
He said the decision was "largely political" and a "betrayal of the public trust" and that the group would be seeking advice from a lawyer.
But Environment Minister Mary Polak said Huntington and Langer "don't understand the environmental process" to make such claims and stated the environmental assessment did provide opportunity for public input and those records are available to read by anybody.
"It was apparent to me from the comments [made by Langer] that he was not familiar with the specifics of the conditions we had put in place, specifically around fire," said Polak, who termed the level of fire mitigation and suppression conditions "unprecedented" for an environmental certificate.
Those conditions include that the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation (VAFFC), a consortium of commercial airlines, have a fire safety plan prepared and implemented in consultation with the fire departments, provincial emergency services, and the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, and that firefighting systems be installed at the fuel-receiving facility and marine terminal that will protect fuel transfer areas and storage tanks.
Polak said the public raised legitimate concerns about the project but that any "reasonable person looking at the conditions that have been put in place" would say those concerns have been addressed.
The environmental approval gives VAFFC permission to build a marine terminal on the south bend of the Fraser River. Jet fuel will be delivered to the terminal by barges and then pumped to the airport via a 13-kilometre underground pipeline along Highway 99.
Currently, about 30 tanker trucks collect kerosene-based jet fuel from the Cherry Point refinery near Blaine, Wash, each day and transfer it to the airport. A 50-year-old pipeline also connects to Burnaby's Chevron refinery.
Adrian Pollard, project director of VAFFC, said people have focused more on ships being in the river than the benefit of removing trucks from the road.
"Well, there already are ships on the river, barges with bunker fuel and so this activity goes on right at the doorstep of the Fraser River with crude oil tankers already," he said. "Bringing jet fuel barges up the river is not a huge variance from what we're currently experiencing."
Pollard said the environmental certificate was a comprehensive process that took nearly five years, but that a number of delays and suspensions were outside of the control of VAFFC.
The environmental assessment, which began in 2009, was twice delayed by the environment ministry, including earlier this spring. Then-environment minister Terry Lake said ministry staff needed the delay to attend a symposium on a land-based spill response.
Richmond Council had already condemned the proposal with a vote and Mayor Malcolm Brodie recently appeared alongside Huntington to make a last ditch appeal to deny the project for environmental approval.
The environmental assessment certificate includes 64 legally binding conditions that VAFFC must meet to be in compliance.
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said the item will likely come forward on Monday's (Dec. 16) council agenda where it will be referred to the emergency planning committee. From there, members of the fire and police department and other technical staff can review the environmental assessment and then make recommendations if need be.
"I'm sure the minister will be very amenable to looking at anything we want to bring forward," said Jackson.
She said some people aren't aware the tanker trucks used to travel through the Massey Tunnel until the municipality found out about it five years and put a stop to it. The trucks were rerouted over the Alex Fraser Bridge instead for safety reasons.
"My goal would be to make it as safe as possible," said Jackson. "I think trucks are more apt to be involved in accidents on the freeway and on the Alex Fraser than we would see at a dock side that is very heavily monitored and controlled."