IN THE NEWS ~ Coal opposition is heating up - Quayside residents organize rally

A proposed coal facility in Surrey is becoming a burning issue in the Royal City.

Port Metro Vancouver has received an application to allow the Fraser Surrey Docks to accommodate a facility where coal is loaded from trains onto barges using a conveyor system. More than 40 people attended a rally against the proposal that was hosted by the Quayside Community Board on Sunday.

"The Raging Grannies made a rare appearance," said Paul Thompson, who handles the group's marketing. "They opened the rally with four songs, one specifically on coal."

Sixty people signed petitions against the proposal on Sunday, bringing the total to more than 300.

"We are against using coal to achieve the expansion," Thompson said. "If they want clean exports - all for it."

Thompson said the coal is from the United States and is being shipped abroad.

"We are just a conduit and nothing more," he said. "For 50 jobs, it is not worth it."

Coun. Jonathan Cote, accompanied by two of his daughters, said health and environmental needs of current and future generations need to be considered.

Letters from New Westminster-Coquitlam MP Fin Donnelly and Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian were read out at the rally, with both voicing concerns about the proposal at Fraser Surrey Docks.

"As energy and natural resources critic, I have written to the minister of transport, Denis Lebel, asking him to put pressure on Port Metro Vancouver to reverse this decision and conduct broad, inclusive public hearings that take into account the threat to our health and community from the growing presence of coal dust in the air," wrote Julian. "I have also written to Port Metro asking them to halt the expansion as none of the evaluation conducted by PMV addressed the issue of coal dust. We know what coal dust does in terms of heart disease, lung disease and cancer. The public have the right to a thorough, transparent assessment of the health and safety consequences resulting from this expansion."

Gavin Palmer, past president of the Queensborough Residents' Association, relayed the effects that coal dust had on Sparwood, a community he used to visit as part of his job.

According to the District of Sparwood's website, coal development in the region resulted in the creation of three small communities known as Michel, Natal and Sparwood in the late 1800s and early 1900s; Michel and Natal were in the immediate area of the coal mines.

"By 1966, the Village of Natal and the settlement of Michel had become adversely affected by coal dust," states the website. "The Village of Natal, in cooperation with the provincial and federal governments, entered into an urban renewal and land assembly program, which eventually resulted in the townspeople of Natal and Michel moving to Sparwood."

Two New Westminster candidates in May's provincial election submitted responses by the organizers' deadline. Green Party candidate Terry Teather is opposed to the expansion plan because of its potential environmental impacts for the city and the planet, and Independent candidate James Crosty is opposed, as he doesn't believe coal is the way to achieve an expansion at Fraser Surrey Docks.

Kevin Washbrook, a director with Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, said a growing number of Surrey and New Westminster residents are becoming concerned about the proposal.

"I was impressed," he said of the rally. "It's another step forward in this effort to stop this expansion."

Until now, Washbrook said opposition has come from environmentalists and health leaders.

"In the last couple of weeks it's caught fire at this grassroots level," he said. "To me, that's how we are going to stop this."

According to Washbrook, communities on the West Coast of the United States no longer want to be exporting coal. He said opponents are trying to show the port authority that British Columbia's future doesn't lie in exporting dirty coal from the United States to China.

Voters Taking Action on Climate Change has a goal to make sure this becomes an issue in the provincial election, and to get more local governments to take a formal position on the proposal.

On Monday, New Westminster city council approved a motion to have the city develop a strategy to communicate with the community to work with Port Metro Vancouver to develop an acceptable consultation process and to participate in the port's processes.

Coun. Betty McIntosh said the city has been getting a number of comments from community members about the issue, with some feeling the city has taken no action on the proposal. She said the city's website should include information so residents can see what the city has proactively done to address the proposal.

"We need to let our community know what we are doing," she said. "Last week we had the residents' forum. When we gave them a presentation they all were very impressed with what the city's actions have been to this stage."

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr agreed that the community needs to ensure the community is informed about the city's actions regarding the proposal.

"In all fairness, that's the first I heard of that presentation. I would assume that was just completed by Mr. Allison who presented it to us," Puchmayr said. "That information certainly needs to get out.

Mark Allison, a senior planner with the City of New Westminster, recently made a presentation to a joint meeting of council and residents' associations about the potential environmental impacts of the proposal. Coun. Bill Harper expressed concern about the type of public consultation the proponents have had to date.

"They have met basically with rail companies, other terminals and the federal government," he said. "There has been no real public consultation."

In a letter to the City of New Westminster, Port Metro Vancouver stated Fraser Surrey Docks will be having two open houses in May.

New Westminster city council approved a motion to ask Port Metro Vancouver to ensure one of its public consultation meetings takes place in New Westminster.

"Since receiving the application, Port Metro Vancouver staff has continued to work with Fraser Surrey Docks to review and refine their proposal to address technical issues, and community, municipal and First Nations concerns raised throughout the consultation process," stated the letter from Port Metro Vancouver. "In response to municipal and community interest for more public consultation on this project, Port Metro Vancouver is requiring Fraser Surrey Docks to conduct further consultation activities as they refine their project and finalize their proposed mitigation strategies."


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