Business & Economy
January 23, 2018

South of the Fraser River & the Industrialization of Delta~Agricultural Land: Going, going, gone

There has been a lot of back and forth about industrial development in Delta.  There is the MLA for Delta South who is still double dipping as a member of Delta Council. He’s insisting he represents farm interests but in the same breath advocates single mindedly for an overbuilt multi billion dollar  ten lane bridge to replace the Massey tunnel. Such a bridge would further industrialize that part of the Fraser River and ensure adjoining lands are  permanently removed from any future agricultural consideration.  And then there’s Ivanhoe Cambridge, the real estate arm of a Quebec pension fund  who have developed a whopping 1.2 million square foot mall with 6,000 parking spaces on what was the most arable Class 1 farmland in Canada, land that is controlled by the Tsawwassen First Nation.
It is refreshing to hear from someone who is not trying to facilitate the paving over of prime agricultural lands for industry with things like an $18 million dollar parking lot for port bound trucks and port expansion. As the Vancouver Sun’s Larry Pynn writes there are people who are very concerned about the loss of “prime” (the best in Canada) farmland in South Delta. As farmer Rod Swenson states ““Delta is just getting hacked and torn apart by everything — roads, industry and the First Nations treaty.”

The map above shows Brunswick Point north of Deltaport which has 250 hectares of potentially arable lands. Four families farm this area under provincial Crown leases that are due to expire. Mr. Swenson would like to see the lands designated in perpetuity for agriculture and wildlife. This area of Delta is on one of the big migratory flightways on the continent.
Without this designation, this land could be developed for industry through the Tsawwassen First Nation which has the first right of refusal.Even though this land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, the First Nations do not need to abide by that designation should they control the land. The Tsawwassen First Nations have already extensively developed their lands for two large shopping malls, housing and industrial warehouses related to the port.
Here is where it gets sticky~how important is agricultural land? Will new farming techniques mean that this land can be more intensively used in the future? And should the Province be keeping this land as agricultural for future generations? The trail along the Brunswick Point dike is also a birdwatching area where the spring migration of hundreds of thousands of western sandpipers can be viewed. Is this a resource that should be protected? Or should the local industrial based economy take precedence?


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Lots of coverage in the past few days on the removal of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears Bridges, plus the implications for mobility pricing.  Here are my thoughts as reported in various media:
From the Vancouver Sun:

By removing tolls, more people may choose to drive

British Columbia’s new NDP government will scrap tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges on Sept. 1, but motorists should enjoy the free ride while it lasts.
That’s because a commission is investigating mobility pricing options for transportation, which could include bridge tolls and other road usage fees.
The NDP government is now championing the phrase “Toll Free B.C.” — and Transportation Minister Claire Trevena denied in an interview Friday that this slogan would be temporary given the work of the mobility commission. “What the mayors are looking at is mobility pricing, which is not tolling. It is looking at how people move,” she told Postmedia News.
But Gordon Price, an expert on all things urban, said the reality is that motorists will, of course, be paying for road infrastructure again under any mobility pricing system. A new system would likely look very different, though, and could be more equitable than merely taxing bridge users south of the Fraser Valley.
There are also other inequities in the local transportation system, Price noted, such as paying for ferries and transit. “Is a Compass Card really different from a TReO card?” asked Price, a former Vancouver city councillor and former director of the Simon Fraser University City Program.
The key will be to find a solution that doesn’t politically alienate drivers (a.k.a. voters), who have come to expect that roads are an essential service funded by governments. “We have been raised on the free road. It is called a ‘freeway’ for a reason,” Price quipped

From the CBC:

Does loss of Lower Mainland bridge toll revenue pave way for mobility pricing?

Gordon Price, a fellow with the Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University, says mobility pricing has evolved beyond tolls.
“Bridge tolls are very 20th century,” he said, adding that having tolls connected to a particular infrastructure piece is an outdated system.
“More and more we’re going to be thinking about transportation as a range of choices, and yes at this point you’ll individually pay for them [whether] it’s a bike share, car share, car rental, car use, taxis, transit,” he said.
He says governments could find ways to offer transportation services to commuters that would bring in tax revenue and cover maintenance costs as well.
“If I can buy a monthly service, that will give me all of these choices in one integrated package, very simple, seamless pricing, that’s very desirable.”
From News1130:

By removing tolls, more people may choose to drive


LOWER MAINLAND (NEWS 1130) – The province’s move to scrap tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges will change your commute. But it’s still unclear what it will mean for traffic flows and volumes in our region.

By removing the tolls, Gord Price with SFU’s City Program believes more people will choose to drive.
“If you build an urban region that’s designed for the car, you get more cars,” says Price. “If you build it around transit, Vancouver an example built around the electric streetcar back in the day, still functions pretty well with a more balanced system.”
So while in the short term congestion may drop at the Pattullo and Alex Fraser bridges, the increased overall traffic could create new choke points.
“The idea of having a free road just encourages more traffic,” says Price. “Eventually there is some kind of congestion point, whether it’s the kind of mass congestion that occurs at rush hour, or it moves the traffic further along to the next congestion point.”
Price also believes this move will lead to more people moving to the suburbs now that they won’t have to pay the toll.

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Here’s Andrew Weaver’s release on today’s announcement:
Weaver statement on government’s decision to remove bridge tolls
VICTORIA, BC – Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green caucus, issued the following statement today in response to the government’s removal of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears Bridges.
“It’s unfortunate that the government has decided to proceed with this reckless policy,” said Weaver.
“There is no question that the affordability crisis facing so many British Columbians is a significant concern. However, this policy is high cost and low impact. There are lots of good, high return-on-investments decisions that government can make, such as education, student housing and child care. It is disappointing that the first major measure that this government has taken to make life more affordable for British Columbians will add billions of dollars to taxpayer-supported debt. Moreover, making such a massive addition to our debt risks raising interest on all debt, which ultimately prevents government from being able to invest more in important social programs.
“Tolls are an excellent policy tool to manage transport demand. Transport demand management reduces pollution and emissions, alleviates congestion and helps pay for costly infrastructure. That’s why, at the negotiating table when preparing our Confidence and Supply Agreement, we ensured that a commitment was included to work with the Mayors’ Council consultation process to find a more fair and equitable way of funding transit for the long-term. We look forward to that commitment being met so that British Columbians can have an evidence-based, truly fair approach to this file.”
As one commentator noted, the NDP may well have won the election as a consequence of their promise to remove tolls on the Port Mann.  It may have secured the needed ridings, particularly South of the Fraser.
But Weaver’s points are good – and deserving of a major policy debate in the House, particularly with respect to the implications for future decisions on road pricing.

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“The B.C. government is getting rid of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges starting Sept. 1, Premier John Horgan has announced.”
The Premier and assorted ministers articulated the reasons they’re getting rid of tolls – effectively on all existing and new road-and-bridge projects:

  • Reduce costs for drivers
  • Reduce congestion
  • Reduce impediments to movement across the region

You can do one or two of those goals; you can’t, over time, do them all.  Less visible cost per trip, the more incentive to drive.  The more incentive to drive, the greater the likelihood of congestion.  And hence more impediment to movement – unless, of course, the belief is that we’ll build and widen more bridges and roads, which will all be ‘free’, thus continuing the fruitless cycle.
Three other impacts:

  • This is the end of the public-private partnership for funding infrastructure that requires a cash flow generated by the infrastructure funded.  (In other words, a perpetual money-machine, where debt to build infrastructure created more cash flow to generate more debt to build more infrastructure.)
  • Good luck to the ‘Mobility Pricing Independent Commission’ set up by the Mayors’ Council to explore the feasibility of road pricing.  The NDP decision today reinforces the notion that no senior government will accept a proposal that would require them to spend political capital to impose a visible charge on road users.
  • Though the government didn’t say so, I’m sure one of their goals would be to reduce sprawl in the Lower Mainland.  But as of today, that goal not only got so much harder, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an uptick in housing costs east of the Port Mann.
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Vancouver Sun Image
From CBC via Price Tags Editor Ken Ohrn is the notification that “four of the five members of the Transportation Investment Corporation board, which oversees B.C.’s Port Mann Bridge, have been removed by the provincial government.” 
That’s right- “In an Order In Council formally approved on Friday, chair Daniel Doyle and directors Anne Stewart, Clifford Neufeld and former finance minister Colin Hansen had their appointments rescinded.” One person remains, Irene Kerr who is the CEO of TI Corp and will be on the board until the end of 2018. TI Corp is the governmental creation that managed the construction of the bridge and the subsequent tolling on this and the Golden Ears Bridge.

While the Port Mann is not making money as projected from tolls, it is still projected to pay for itself . The 2017 B.C. budget suggested that losses of  $88 million dollars in 2017 and $90 million dollars in 2018 are expected. The TI Corp was also to provide “support” for the implementation of the ‘George Massey Tunnel Replacement  Project-when will he NDP government be announcing what they are doing with that vast overbuilt  project?
Meanwhile south of the Fraser  City of Richmond Councillor Carol Day supports the transit idea of the  Mayor of Delta who was pleading for a ten lane bridge, and for a rapid transit connection to get that bridge. Councillor Day calls the refusal of the Mayors’ Council to consider rapid transit to Delta  the “special sort of short sightedness that is iconic of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. This creates a piecemeal approach to infrastructure that approves individual projects in isolation of one another without sufficient consideration of the future.”
Councillor Day further notes: “Mayor Jackson is absolutely right in saying that we have to think about building capacity for 75 years into the future rather than merely extending existing transit lines. We will be able to plan out a much more efficient transit network if all current and potential projects support each other and a unified vision.” 
It is going to be an interesting time as the new Provincial government reviews and unravels the truths and myths about the Massey Tunnel crossing, and evaluates what will work  best for the Fraser River crossing in Delta-where, how, and why.

Richmond News Image

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Price Tags is blessed with an educated base of very informed readers, who richly  contribute to the comment section. Price Tags editors want to share the following comment from reader Alex Botta, who writes comprehensively and coherently about the challenges ahead in navigating a Provincial boat potentially helmed by three different skippers.

The urban-rural divide is now clearer than ever, and Christy helped widen it. Many of the comments following posted CBC and Globe & Mail news stories about the election results indicated absolute disdain for Metro Vancouver from the hinterlands. Several pointed out that city dwellers do not know much about rural areas. Maybe so, but I also read a huge amount of ignorance about the city and how important it is to the provincial economy. The next government must find ways to bridge that divide.
The overlap between the Green and NDP platforms is quite remarkable. I believe they have the basic working foundations of a coalition already in place. Andrew Weaver was interviewed on The National last night. I had to watch part of the following National broadcast to make sure I heard him right. He reiterated with passion that the deal breaker issues to the Greens backing another party were: i) to take the money out of politics; and ii) and to not allow more bitumen tankers in our waters. Redirecting LNG into renewables and a number of other issues on housing, instituting proportional representation, and raising the carbon tax are also on the table. He also said he will not be bribed with a cabinet seat, and said he didn’t leave his career as a climate scientist at its pinnacle just to be bought by the promise of a place in cabinet. The interview with Weaver starts about 10 minutes in:
For the life of me, I really don’t see Christy Clark agreeing to any of these negotiating points. If she does work something out with Weaver she will obviously be doing it as a temporary measure, all the while wielding that million watt instant fake smile of hers and issuing unbelievable comments about what a good environmentalist she is, and maybe purchase a couple of green sweaters for photo-ops in front of green trees while hugging bunnies. Meanwhile, she’ll keep the curtain closed on the bursting closet of her policies on fossil fuels, biding her time until she can stab the Greens in the back and try for another strong majority even though 59% of the vote this week went to the progressive side of the ledger.
Keep in mind when the final votes are counted she may form a very slim majority of one or two seats and cancel the need for an agreement with Weaver et al, which could collapse if a couple of MLAs get the flu and miss a crucial vote. The same applies to an NDP-Green government. It may be wise for both parties to hand out vitamins and surgical masks at the door to every meeting.
If the Greens and NDP are really serious about bringing the BC economy into the 21st Century they would negotiate a two or three-term agreement to stop competing with each other in every riding and run one candidate against the Liberals in key locations, therein likely attaining majority status until proportionality is fully realized. Three terms as a BC NDP-Green coalition government will potentially change the entire nation for the better by creating hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs in renewables (potentially over 150,000 in wind power alone), in construction around greatly expanded urban transit, lowering emissions remarkably, fostering innovation labs through directed educational institute funding in partnership with industry, and so on.
Lastly, the Libs record as supreme debt creators is unsurpassed. Moreover, they are masters at hiding it beyond the reach of annual budgets. In other words, the Libs do not care one whit that their grandchildren will be saddled with the enormous burden of paying it down, probably at much higher interest rates than today. The NDP of the 90s look like fiscal conservatives by comparison. I suggest that an NDP-Green government must also address debt reduction, even if that means enacting a dedicated debt reduction tax. If they can manage to create thousands of additional jobs in the renewable energy and construction sectors and value-added measures in sustainable resources like forestry,

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In one of those puzzling moments, the Mayor of Delta has spoken out against the Mayor’s Council on Regional Transportation-which the Mayor sits on. The Mayor’s Council has released its #CureCongestionGuide as reported in Price Tags here, taking a look at all the policies put forward by the various Provincial parties and ascertaining which parties will further the development of public transportation in this region. The parties were asked about their understanding and commitment to the Mayor’s ten-year vision for Metro Vancouver which included Surrey light rail and replacing the Pattullo bridge. The Mayors’ Council had a “scorecard” and gave the NDP a 3 out of 5 points in terms of their  transit and transportation platform and responses.
The Mayor of Delta is the only Mayor in the region that wants the ten lane, multi-billion dollar (estimates now suggest $8 billion with carrying costs) unsustainable Massey Bridge being built by the Province on the sensitive Fraser River delta.  The proposed new bridge goes right into her jurisdiction, and  the Mayor was the only positive vote for this monolith, with the other Mayors asking the Province for a reconsideration.

As reported by Ian Jacques in the Delta Optimist  the Mayor stated “I really believe that we have to stay out of the politics of it and send our message strong and clear to whoever is the successor. I think this goes too far,” she said. “We need to encourage people to get out to vote, but vote as you wish. Know the facts. Here at the facts from the TransLink area, but in terms of comparing parties and encouraging people to vote in a certain direction, I have a problem with that.”
The Mayor of Delta also doesn’t like that the other mayors are not supporting  the Province’s Massey bridge, ostensibly designed for congestion, but really overbuilt to accommodate LNG carrying ships on the Fraser River. “It is a huge connector for the west side of the Lower Mainland and to have it totally ignored in this fashion is quite insulting frankly and quite unacceptable to me. We have been working on this current proposal for five long years and to not have any mention of a proposal of this nature in the study is baffling.”
Mike Buda, executive director of the TransLink Mayors’ Council Secretariat actually made a lot of sense when he clearly stated “Voters need to understand the kind of role the mayors’ council is looking for of the next provincial government to support that 10-year vision.”  And that is true. The current Provincial government wants to conduct another transit referendum after the last disastrous exercise. While we all know that the key to affordability and accessibility in the region is good public transportation, no one needs to be dragged back into that expensive referendum process again. We need to move forward with a Provincial government willing to work in partnership with Metro Vancouver to keep the region affordable and accessible. And that means working hard and co-operatively for good regional public transportation.
But back to the Mayor of Delta-“They are talking about the Pattullo Bridge and that hasn’t been on the books nearly as long, so to my way of thinking, the argument that the Massey project is a provincial project is very thin.”
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If you go  through the Massey Tunnel, you’ve seen an increase in machinery and people wearing hard hats at that location. Students at Kwantlen Polytechnic have been following the progress, writing in  The Runner Mag. Braden Klassen notes that the bridge planned by the Province with no consultation “will be funded partially by user tolls and partnerships which have not yet been announced.”
As one of the B.C. Liberals’  chosen public-private partnerships, this new bridge will be operated similarly to Port Mann.  There the Transportation Investment Corporation (you know it as TReO, the group you pay tolls to on the Port Mann bridge) “operates and maintains the Port Mann, but the actual company responsible for tolling the bridge is called Trans Canada Flow. TC Flow is basically a small twig on the branch of a convoluted tree of French (France)  subsidiaries, the list of which reads like a genealogy account from the book of Genesis.”
Braden Klassen examines these companies in France invested in Metro Vancouver.  “TI Corp affiliate TC Flow was begat by partner groups Sanef Tolling and Egis Group, Egis Group was begat by investment groups Caisse des Dépôts and Iosis Partners, who also consist of their many affiliates and shareholders etc.”  Caisse des depots is a French public sector financial institution that promotes “long-term investment…in France and abroad, particularly in projects related to energy transition.”
Klassen states that the “provincial government prioritizes consulting with corporate interests rather than the actual communities affected by these gigantic and costly initiatives…A $3.5 billion dollar investment could have paid for the Evergreen SkyTrain extension twice, with about $700 million left for TransLink..Instead of seizing this opportunity to join the clean energy movement and invest in a greener, more efficient transit-oriented solution, we’re going to build another bridge that will accommodate fossil-fuel driven transportation.”
Similar to the  Site C Dam project, and Pacific NorthWest LNG, a chosen public-private partnerships will “design, build, partially finance, operate, maintain and rehabilitate the asset for a term of 30 years.” According to the government, “This procurement approach best provides value to taxpayers.” 
There you have it. The Province is being fiscally responsible in building the Massey Bridge with its unannounced international corporate partners. No need for consultation if it’s the right thing, or at the right place for the Metro Vancouver Mayor’s Council or for regional growth.  The Province  knows what is best value-we’ve been told.


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Sandor Gyarmati in the Delta Optimist reports that the Premier knows what is good for you and the Massey Bridge will “make a huge difference in the lives of those who live south of the Fraser”.  Now that is kind of strange thing to say when you are defending the expenditure of $3.5 billion dollars (projected to go over budget according to many sources).
There are other alternatives that would have made a huge difference in the lives of everyone north and south of the Fraser River, including placing this bridge in an area to the east that is not impacting the most arable farmland in Canada. They could have seriously looking at other alternatives to the bridge such as twinning the tunnel, and simply doing some things that are done globally in other “congestion” situations, such as limiting truck traffic during peak times, or getting the port to operate on a 24 hour basis, like every other port in North America. Under the thin veil of talking about “jobs” and “congestion” it is assumed that citizens are not smartly analyzing the lack of public process and the wrong-headed direction which right from the start has nixed the tunnel. And no one is saying the real reason for the tunnel being taken out, which is for the Port (a federal not provincial agency) to dredge and industrialize the Fraser River for deeper, bigger boats carrying coal and liquid natural gas to Asia. It is all a very 20th century approach. A $3.5 billion dollar 20th century approach.

But never mind that, here is the Premier’s response last week in Delta. “I would argue, even more importantly, you can cross the river on the bridge and know you’re doing it safely with your kids in the car. It (current tunnel) so desperately needs seismic upgrading, I worry about people using that tunnel now. I think that will be a big improvement for people in South Delta”. 
This is all a little weird as the previous Minister of Transportation stated that the tunnel was good for decades. But now it is the “s” words, safety, seismic, to go with “jobs” and “congestion” and spending $3.5 billion dollars for a bridge determined by the Mayors’ Council to be in the wrong place. But back to the Premier. “I promised that we would do this four years ago before the last election. We have spent four years with the scientists and geotechnical people and consulting with the community, and four years later we’re getting on with it..When I promise to do something, we get it done.” 
You can take a look at the document list and the skinny public process here. This is one of those projects where the end, a bridge, was kind of foregone conclusion. There’s been a couple of meetings here and there, but no active dialogue or response. And in terms of addressing the fact that all the Metro Vancouver mayors except for the Mayor of Delta did not want a bridge located here? Nothing.

But on to the “benefits”.  The Premier states you  will have “reduced congestion” (which could be solved by more transit and eliminating trucks at peak periods in the current tunnel). You will have “improved safety” (of course you also have ten lanes of traffic). And my favourite-there will “13,000 fewer tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions”, because instead of idling at peak times all those vehicles will be proceeding at speed. There’s no factor for the increased emission resulting from the induced vehicle demand a new bridge will bring. And strangely, no comparison to the Port Mann bridge, or whether this is really worth $3.5 billion dollars.
Sometimes when you promise to do something, you have to make sure it is the right work, not just doing the work right.

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Imagine in fifty years what people will say about the decision-making occurring in Metro Vancouver. For some reason the Province has decided that the Metro region, the largest in the province is not an equitable partner and needs to be told what to do, despite the fact that there is a Mayor’s Council, a regional government, and TransLink, all committed to making the region accessible and affordable.
Those two elements are fundamental in the sustainable stewardship of the region. But not to the current government-it is all about those two second soundbites-Build a Bridge. Create jobs building a Bridge. Maybe build another bridge at Oak Street. Don’t consult with what is really needed. Don’t analyze why twinning the tunnel might be effective. And don’t tell citizens that the tunnel is being removed to provide deeper draft access for boats carrying hazardous items like LNG (liquid natural gas) to Asian ports.
The Premier continues to wear a blue hard hat when talking about her bridge. The blue hard hat is the colour of hard hat traditionally given to probationary workers that don’t know the job site, and require active supervision. Not listening to the Mayors’ Council, ignoring the regional plan for growth and spot building bridges in the wrong place serves no one.
As reported in the Delta Optimist a faction of local residents are continuing to speak out about this billion dollar blunder.  “Saying there’s a crises situation when it comes to the Fraser estuary and its sensitive habitat, biologist Otto Langer warned the new industrial era on the river, as well as the bridge, will completely wipe it the estuary in a few decades. He also said the federal government has also let the citizens of B.C. down. Richmond Councillor Harold Steves said the government’s “lies go on and on” and that he’s never heard so many untruths about a project before the bridge plan. He noted the structure will open up Delta and Richmond farmland for industrialization.”
Critics also “disputed a number of government conclusions including the claim the tunnel is at the end of its design life, noting that back in 2009 former Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon had declared the current tunnel was good for another 50 years.” 
So why is this bridge in the wrong place being built?

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