Did the British Columbia government just sign the Fraser River’s death warrant?
Some say it has.
On Dec.12 the government green lighted jet fuel tankers to run up and down the Fraser River as it plans to allow a consortium of commercial airlines to build a $110 million jet fuel tank facility in south Richmond to supply Vancouver International Airport with fuel from oversees purchased by the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation.
And so it goes Environment Minister Mary Polak and Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman will forever be etched in history as the people who ultimately allowed for this to take place.
VAFFC submitted its proposal to build the tank farm nearly three years ago. The long road is nearing its end as Port Metro Vancouver just needs to sign off on the environmental assessment and project, which it’s expected to do.
It should be noted the announcement was made at 3 p.m., around the same time the community newspapers, the News and the Review, go to press for their Friday editions.
After years of delays the expected (project applications to B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office have historically rarely been denied) decision came as Polak and Coleman stamped the approval for the project to go ahead by granting a conditional environmental assessment certificate.
According to the government, there are a number of conditions (64 to be exact) that VAFFC needs to meet to alleviate concerns of a spill and be officially certified. Such conditions include having only double-hauled ships up the river, pre-screening tankers before they enter the river, having tankers be escorted by two tugs and “expert” captains as well as a plethora of requirements for spill prevention and post-spill response and remediation. Here is the full report
VAFFC can now go ahead building an offloading terminal and a large adjacent tank farm facility on land owned by the federal government, which is largely surrounded by agricultural land but also very close to residential condos, two city recreational facilities as well as a movie theatre. VAFFC will also build a 13-kilometre fuel pipeline across Richmond to the airport, eliminating or at least reducing the need to truck the fuel from the Cherry Point Washington State refinery – a major benefit Polak pointed out to the media.
One other major concern is fire fighting abilities if the facility blows up. Despite no firehall within reasonable distance to handle such a fire, Polak and Coleman believe that VAFFC can mitigate this risk through a number of mandated requirements for a fire fighting system such as a foam fire protection system, automated fire detection systems and a special fire hydrant system.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie and city council didn’t mince words in a release the same day:
“We believe the BC Environmental Assessment Office process was flawed. Only one option was reviewed in the EAO process, even though there are many other options to address the airlines’ fuel needs. The community expects more than such a single-minded approach to an issue of this magnitude.”
Critics of the plan include the group VAPOR. Retired fisheries biologist Otto Langer said this to the Richmond News:
“The writing was on the wall long before today and the only reason they delayed this decision earlier this year was because of the election.”
Langer also spoke to the Review:
“In that VAPOR strongly feels that the review process has been unfair and unjust, we have obtained the services of a legal firm to examine the process over the past three years and the approval decision.”
VAPOR has a number of issues with the facility and pipeline plan such as:
-The destruction of the Fraser River estuary in the event of a spill
-Small spills during unloading are a certainty (even VAFFC admits this) and these add up over time – jet fuel is particularly toxic compared to crude oil.
-The government’s 64 conditions are “essentially cut and pasted self-imposed conditions layer out by VAFFC.”
-There were other options that were not looked at such as a pipeline from the Cherry Point refinery in Washington State or a larger pipeline from Burnaby’s marine terminal.
-Even still, the existing pipeline is not near capacity to begin with. Also, there’s no indication YVR will need more fuel in the future. VAPOR points to this 2007 report.
-The decision flies in the face of the public’s lack of support. The consultation process was also problematic.