Business & Economy
February 22, 2018

Environment Canada Expressing Habitat Concern with Deltaport's Proposed Expansion


Price Tags Vancouver has been reporting on the proposal for the Port of Vancouver’s two billion dollar container terminal expansion planned for Roberts Bank in Delta. The CEO of Port Vancouver has also been suggesting that since the new megaships carrying thousands of passengers cannot get under the Lions Gate Bridge, this new facility could also accommodate those passengers disembarking for Vancouver.
One of the challenges with the Port’s proposed facility was the  “hundreds of thousands”  of western sandpipers  migrating to spring Arctic breeding grounds who  feed solely on an algae. This algae is only on the Roberts Bank mudflats.The algae cannot be moved or replaced, meaning that this bird migration would be extinct with port expansion.
As reported by Larry Pynn in The Province    “A written response from Environment and Climate Change Canada to the Canadian Environment Assessment Agency (CEAA) describes the predicted impact of the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project on hundreds of thousands of sandpipers as “potentially high in magnitude, permanent, irreversible, and, continuous”…Concerns centre on the biofilm that the sandpipers consume on the tidal flats at Roberts Bank during their spring migration. The biofilm is a thin, sticky coating secreted predominantly by diatoms to prevent them from being swept away with the tides. Diatoms are at the bottom of a food chain and benefit a host of marine species such as oolichan, sand lance, salmon and crabs…If the container expansion altered the production of biofilm, it could have serious implications for the sandpipers to continue their northward migration.”
The port is putting a happy face on this setback, saying that they will want to work on the issues.  But a representative from B.C. Nature and the local group Against Port Expansion had a more colourful response stating “ If it were a torpedo, I’d say the … port has been holed below the water line. We clearly have an environment at Roberts Bank that is fragile, that cannot withstand any more port development, and, finally, Environment Canada has come out with a definitive statement that should stop this project in its tracks.”

 

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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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Price Tags Vancouver has reported on the fact that the previous Provincial Liberal Government did not release documentation that they had met with  Tunnel Engineering Consultants (TEC) who are top experts on immersed tunnel design and construction over the Massey Tunnel replacement. Formed in 1988, TEC has designed and managed some of the world’s “most challenging and innovative tunnel projects. “
The memo below was suppressed from a previous Freedom of Information request to the former Liberal Provincial Government for these type of materials. The memo below dated April 8 2013 outlines that Delcan, an engineering company  approached TEC to “make a presentation to the client the Province of British Columbia” and to update the client on the state of art in immersed tunnelling.”
The memo outlines that “a meeting was organized with 11 attendants from the Ministry of Transportation among which a few important decision making officials, like the regional director, regional managers and the program director for the Massey Tunnel replacement…besides general information about immersed tunnelling, special attention has been given to tunnel safety, earthquake resistance design and comparison with bridge solutions, which are among the important issues the Ministry is dealing with.”
And here is where it gets interesting~”At the end of the meeting attendants, especially the high-ranking officials said the presentation was an eye-opener to them. They further indicated that with this information a tunnel option, either as a full replacement or an additional to the existing one, again had become a viable option, where before they had disregarded that  option, with a new bridge being the only viable solution”.
You can read the full memo below.
M130046 Visit report George Massey Tunnel
 

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The Delta Optimist  has published a  letter that really should have  been their big headline. But never mind~Price Tags Vancouver will do it. We all remember the defeated Liberal government’s bandying around of the proposed multi-billion overbuilt Massey Bridge which would have provided ten lanes on the bridge and led to the industrialization of that part of the Fraser River. The ex premier of the province, Ms. Clark actually got on the podium and when asked during the election why this unsustainable bridge to congestion on each side of it was being built, happily announced “JOBS!”.
It turns out that despite what the past Provincial Liberal government said to the public and continually announced, there was another option to the building of this billion dollar bridge behemoth. Specialists from the Netherlands prepared a presentation~on twinning the existing tunnel in 2013. The Massey Tunnel is named after Douglas Massey’s father, and it was Mr. Massey who made a Freedom Of Information request to the then Provincial Liberal government. That turned up nothing. But a more recent repeated request turned up this Dutch Engineering twin tunnel study and it is publicly available courtesy of the new Transportation Minister, Claire Trevena.
As Mr. Massey wrote in the Optimist: “ A meeting was held on April 4, 2013 between the Ministry of Transportation and Tunnel Engineering Consultants (TEC) of the Netherlands to update the ministry on the state of the art of immersed tunneling.
The content of the 60-page presentation included introduction of TEC worldwide tunnel projects both recent and proposed, and cost-effective options for the George Massey Tunnel. Special attention was given to tunnel safety, earthquake resistance design and comparison with bridge solutions.
The following are quotes taken from that presentation:
1.Tunnels are more suited for various and poor soil conditions.
2. Tunnels are shorter in length than a bridge and have a smaller footprint.
3.Tunnels can be built parallel and close to existing tunnels.
4.Tunnel construction is capable of dealing with severe seismic conditions.
5.Tunnel construction where 80 to 90 per cent of the work could be done by local contractors.
6.Tunnels can be built “safer than an open highway.”
This Dutch team also recommended that they assess the structure and integrity of the current tunnel and increase river depth by using an asphalt mattress instead of riprap. They suggested using longitudinal ventilation and repurpose the existing ventilation ducts as escape pods and for conduits for cyclists and walkers, among other innovative ideas. This report was never made public. As Mr. Massey states ” the former Liberal government never revealed the true facts or alternatives to the public. Instead, it followed the demands of the Port of Vancouver and wrote fear mongering reports that suited its agenda of removing the George Massey Tunnel and deepening the lower Fraser River to suit present and future industrial interests.”
The Dutch have been creating these types of submerged tunnels successfully for years. Looking at twinning the tunnel would preserve the existing habitat and ecosystem of the Fraser, and restrain the industrialization of this sensitive bog and marshland.  Why was this report not released before to the public? And is this a viable option for  creating more capacity crossing the Fraser River?
As Mr. Massey summarizes that this sensitive area is “known the world over as vital component for a continued healthy ecosystem that supports a migratory food source for all marine and wildfowl life from the headwaters of the Fraser River along migratory routes of the Pacific Coast. May the true facts be known.”

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Vicki Huntington needs no introduction to the people living in Delta. Ms. Huntington was the former MLA for Delta South and has an outstanding  background of public service.  Among her many accomplishments she has been a band manager for the Gitanmaax First Nation in Hazelton, worked with the RCMP in their security services, and consulted with  ministers of the Crown in Ottawa. She also served five terms as a Councillor in the City of Delta and two terms as the MLA.  She believes strongly in maintaining farmland for future generations and has been recognized for her strong commitment to farming and nature.
Vicki did not run in the last Provincial election for her independent seat~had she run as an independent, she would have been part of the balance of power in the Provincial government coalition. Instead, Delta Councillor Ian Paton of the Liberals won that seat, and currently double dips between sitting on Delta Council (he is paid $62,000 a year plus his expenses) as well as sitting as an MLA where he makes an additional $106,000 plus. Mr. Paton was named newsmaker of the year  by the Delta Optimist, not for double dipping and denying Delta of a more independent voice on Council, but  because he became  a member of the Provincial legislature.  Mr. Paton claims to want the farmer’s best interest but has been unwavering in the support of a multi-billion dollar ten lane bridge which will industrialize the Fraser River, create congestion on either side of the bridge, and purportedly bring more industry to Delta.
What a shame that the Delta Optimist did not recognize Ms Huntington who was the first independent MLA in over sixty years, and the first to be re-elected. However Ms. Huntington has been appointed to the new committee reviewing the Agricultural Land Commission and Agricultural Land Reserve along with eight other members. Their mission is to provide  “strategic advice, policy guidance and recommendations on how to help revitalize the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission to ensure the provincial goals of preserving agricultural land and encouraging farming and ranching continue to be a priority.”
There is no doubt that the Agricultural Land Reserve is essential to the health and food security of British Columbia and must be maintained for future generations. Price Tags Vancouver has already written about the City of Delta carving out ten acres of farmland for a “truck staging area” for port bound trucks, and how the Port of Vancouver has another  81 acres of farmland in Richmond to add to their 1,457 hectares currently in “industrial use”. It’s a huge problem~should the Port be allowed to take the most arable farmland in Canada to use for truck and container parking and portage? How can farmers be compensated and continue farming when they can garner economic windfalls from development through port expansion or pseudo “farm estates” to well-heeled buyers?
This new Agricultural Land Commission review  committee will seek opinions and feedback and hold meetings with  farming and ranching communities. Recommendations could include changes to the way the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission is set up, regulated and administered. This review is badly needed to ensure that agricultural land is reserved for future populations, and to stop speculators buying up farmland for other purposes. The current MLA for Delta South Mr. Paton is already naysaying the committee appointments,  suggesting that maintaining land in agricultural use restrains the rights of farmers to get extra income from their land. But farmers and speculators did buy that agricultural land  ostensibly for agricultural purposes, and for the future of the region, we must ensure that this agricultural land, the very best in Canada, remains for future generations.

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In the “bad ideas that just won’t go away” department both Port Metro Vancouver and the Delta Optimist are out in force saying how important it is that new facilities are designed to accommodate mega cruise ships. These mega ships have been called “floating skyscrapers laid out sideways” and accommodate over 5,000 people. The gross tonnage is  over 100,000 tons, and these vessels are over 1000 feet wide by 225 wide. These floating cities are designed for the cruise companies to have great economies of scale, but set up logistical problems for ports that have to accommodate these vessels. Indeed there are already lists of places online that are purportedly being ruined by the visits of these behemoths.
But here is what Port Metro Vancouver says~they’ve had a two per cent increase in passenger volumes over the year and the Port says that cruises are a “critical economic driver” bringing in an average 3 million dollars per vessel stay into the economy.
Of course this means that the Port is already embarking on a “pre-feasibility” study to ascertain where this mega cruise ship dock is going to be. As Price Tags Vancouver has previously written the two potential locations are Port Metro Vancouver locations in Richmond  or Delta. Delta port is already trying to expand its facility to accommodate more cargo, despite the fact that such expansion will wipe out critical habitat for the  migratory western sandpiper. But back to those mega ships.
Such ships could provide more customers for the ailing Tsawwassen Mills mall which is failing to attract a mega amount of  customers outside of their annual Boxing Day sale. The ships could also bring candidates to the new casino which will be  potentially placed beside the Massey Tunnel. And in the words of the Delta Optimist “…the port has also been saying cruise lines are building bigger ships which Canada Place won’t be able to accommodate. This summer, a top official with Cruise Lines International Association told the media that Vancouver is behind other cities, such as Seattle, that are investing heavily in their port infrastructure. The Vancouver port shut down Ballantyne Pier to cruise ships in 2014, leaving Canada Place as the city’s only cruise terminal.”

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In truly one of the most bizarre events south of the Fraser River, the  Mayor  of the Corporation of Delta was invited to speak to the Surrey Board of Trade as part of their 2017 Surrey Environment and Business Awards. Subject?  Why the business community must force the Provincial government build a ten lane overbuilt multi-billion dollar bridge which will industrialize the banks of the  Fraser River. No mention that most of Delta’s economy is based upon trucking and transshipment, with no diversity into more 21st century businesses. Delta needs the bridge to continue their industrial economic base which is all about motordom.
As quoted in the Delta Optimist “The impacts are not just felt in Delta, but in Surrey, White Rock, Langley, even out in the valley. The replacement of the tunnel with a new bridge will relieve on of the worst traffic highway bottlenecks in Canada and save businesses and commuters millions of dollars lost as a result of congestion, accidents and travel delays” the Mayor said.
To the Surrey business community that might not know that you cannot build a ten lane bridge to solve congestion, the Mayor had an enthusiastic audience. The Mayor also trotted out the  Angus Reid survey that showed that the business community and residents supported the bridge. Without comprehensive road widening and new bridges at Oak Street, congestion at the bridge will simply transfer to other areas of Highway 99.
The clearest statement comes from the new  Provincial Minister of Transportation Claire Trevena who stated  We have talked to mayors who were very concerned that their vision for the Lower Mainland was not being recognized. As minister I think this is a responsible way to be acting when you are talking what will be, no matter what we do, whether it is a bridge, whether it is twinning the tunnel or tunnel and bridge combination, who knows what will come of this, but we are responsible with public money. We want to get this right.”

 
 

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Back to the south of the Fraser River where the Massey Bridge is getting a serious rethink by the Province, who are evaluating whether a nearly 4 Billion dollar bridge  located on the sensitive river delta in the wrong place for regional growth is the right thing to do. As Graeme Wood in the Richmond News reports  the Mayor of Richmond Malcolm Brodie expressed gratitude for the pause, saying  “The current government appears to be listening to our concerns that we’ve been expressing over and over for the last four to five years.”
Mr. Brodie is hoping that the Province will consider a twinned tunnel to achieve eight driving lanes. Costs for a twinned tunnel or a bridge are similar, but the tunnel will preclude the port from having large ships navigate upriver. A tunnel would also get rid of the huge highway interchange planned for Steveston Highway.
The Minister of Transportation says that there “was not a thorough business case, a thorough look at all the options.”   The proposed review will  involve the Metro Vancouver mayors and  “focus on what level of improvement is needed in the context of regional and provincial planning, growth and vision, as well as which option would be best for the corridor, be it the proposed 10-lane bridge, a smaller bridge or tunnel.”
Meanwhile in Delta  the Mayor and Council headed up the “We Need A Bridge” campaign counter to the expressed vote of every other mayor in the region.  But residents are starting to notice that their new rookie MLA Ian Paton is serving two roles-he has not given up his position as councillor for the corporation of Delta, and attended the last council meeting via Skype.  The next civic election will not happen until October 2018. While Mr Paton continues in his dual roles he is also lashing out at the work stoppage  on the bridge, repeating  the earthquake in the tunnel safety scenario and reiterating the fact that the tunnel gets congestion. No mention that the congestion, like water, will just plug up closer to Vancouver with a ten lane bridge. You just can’t build your way out of congestion. It doesn’t work like that.
Mr Paton’s refusal to give up his councillor position despite being an MLA brought out a strong reaction from a resident who stated in the local paper “As a taxpayer, it is money well spent to have a by-election and it is unacceptable that Paton continues to draw a salary as councillor at the same time drawing a salary as MLA. Paton quite simply cannot function objectively in the two roles at the same time.”
The practice of dual mandate or as the British call it double jobbing is against the law in many places, but not in British Columbia-or Belgium. You can’t serve as a member of parliament and be a member of the provincial legislature.  But you can be a member of the provincial legislature and a municipal councillor.  The Province of B.C. did try to enact dual office prohibition legislation  but it did not pass a second reading.  There is one  precedent  from twenty years ago when MLA Jenny Kwan also served as a city councillor for a very limited time. But for an emerging municipality like Delta which needs critical thinking about diversifying the economy and energizing new industries, it just makes sense-two heads at two different levels of government are always better than one.

 

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At the end of August Angus Reid  conducted a survey of Metro Vancouver residents about their preferences for a new Massey Bridge at the Massey Tunnel crossing on the Fraser River. Remember that this survey was paid for by the Association of Consulting Engineers of B.C. and the B.C. Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association. Both of these organizations would have a lot of people quickly employed if the multi-billion dollar ten lane bridge was  to be built. Indeed, that was solidly in the Liberals’ Provincial election platform-build the Massey Bridge, employ 6,000 British Columbians. Don’t ask whether the bridge is in the right place, is sustainable, overbuilt, or a threat to the estuary. It’s about jobs.
Respondents throughout the region were asked the following survey question: “As you may be aware, the provincial government has developed a plan that would see the four-lane Massey Tunnel replaced with a new, higher-capacity bridge over the Fraser River. What are your views on replacing the tunnel with a bridge?”
Now that question has a little bias-it is assuming the replacement of the existing tunnel with a new, shinier, higher performance huge bridge. Respondents were not given any other alternative. The way it was written and said will of course make folks go for the unseen shiny penny, not the existing plodding tunnel which has been so slandered by the Corporation of Delta as antiquated, congested, and dangerous. Never mind the fact that it has performed like a solid workhorse for nearly 60 years and has 80,000 daily vehicles, and that similar designs to this tunnel are still in daily use in Europe. Let’s not consider that the tunnel technology could be part of a hybrid solution of either twinning with a  new tunnel or working in concert with a  smaller new bridge.
Local press including The Vancouver Sun’s Stephanie Ip  reported the survey results, which (of course) suggested that 75 per cent of regional respondents “said they would like to see a higher-capacity bridge built to replace the aging tunnel.”  Those results were even collected by political party, showing that ” those who voted for the B.C. Liberals in the spring election were most likely to support the Liberal-launched bridge project, with 90 per cent voicing support. However, 64 per cent of those who voted NDP also support the project.”
And there’s some interesting stuff-only 37 per cent of respondents in Richmond/Delta, the people most impacted by tunnel “congestion” favoured the new bridge. Which gets us back to why this survey was even conducted in the first place-if you are asking folks farther out in  the region what they want for an efficient driving experience, of course a new bridge sounds perfect. But for Richmond and Delta drivers, the loss of Class 1 arable farmland, the degradation of the banks of the Fraser River for industrial businesses, and the honking huge size of this multi-billion dollar bridge brings up more questions about the most efficient way to support regional transportation. An overbuilt bridge in the wrong place doesn’t solve congestion. It merely moves it.
Kudos to the current Provincial government for reviewing the billion dollar Massey  bridge and working with Metro Vancouver and the Mayors’ Council to figure out what the transportation needs are on a regional basis. Let’s start planning our transit and transportation to ensure that all residents have  mobility and accessibility. Let’s ensure the  plan at the Massey crossing is truly the best fit, and considers all the options, not just an “either/or” on an overbuilt expensive 20th century bridge.

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You would think that a large metropolitan region like Metro Vancouver would have a good relationship with the Provincial government and it would be in everyone’s interest to promote good thoughtful transportation across this region. That has not been in the case in the past, where an overbuilt ten lane bridge was being planned on the unique and sensitive Fraser River delta which also holds the most arable soils in Canada. Quite simply, the building of this bridge would solve “congestion” experienced going through the current George Massey Tunnel, but would move that “congestion” along to other parts of the same system, especially towards Richmond and Vancouver. What this bridge would do is reinforce the 20th century notion of the region’s future growth as being dependent on truck traffic from the Port Metro Vancouver’s Deltaport, and would increase the  industrialization of the banks of  the Fraser River. Unlike every other port in North America, Port Metro Vancouver does not operate 24 hours a day, and truck traffic is not restricted through the tunnel at peak times. And when a large truck stalls in the tunnel during rush hours, there’s a huge delay, especially if specialized tow equipment needs to be brought in.
CBC reports that   the Provincial government is putting the Massey Bridge on hold, and  “launching an independent technical review to explore best options going forward.” The current procurement process for building the bridge has also been cancelled. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena states “”We want to look at the different options. There was a sense that not all options were thoroughly examined.” 
And here is the best part-in terms of Massey Crossing options,  “We want one that will get the approval of not just the engineers, but people who live and work in the region.”
This major rethink on the tunnel replacement  was not in the NDP’s  campaign prior to the provincial election, but does recognize the importance of working with the region, not just industrial and commercial interests on regional transportation infrastructure.  Working together and ensuring all interests are represented enables everyone to move towards good connected regional transportation.

 

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