By Keith Norbury

Construction on the proposed multi-billion-dollar Terminal 2 container terminal on Roberts Bank south of Vancouver isn’t likely to begin until 2024 at the earliest, an executive with the Port of Vancouver said in early March. Duncan Wilson, Vice-President of Environment, Community and Government Affairs for Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, said the terminal is expected to begin operations in 2030. A year ago, the port anticipated construction would start in 2022 and the terminal’s first phase, capable of handling the equivalent of 1.6 million TEUs, would commence operations in 2028. “All of this depends on many things that are outside of our control,” Mr. Wilson said in an interview. They include the COVID-19 pandemic, delays in the environmental assessment process, Fisheries Act authorizations, and the federal government’s ultimate decision on the project.

“So we’re intent on doing everything we can to build it in time to support Canadian importers and exporters. But ultimately, it’s going to depend on the timing of those government decisions,” Mr. Wilson said.

Terminal 2 is proposed to be a three-berth project built on reclaimed land to the southwest of Westshore Terminals Ltd.’s Roberts Bank coal terminal, which is itself southwest of the existing Deltaport container terminal. The causeway that connects the existing terminals, also built on a peninsula of reclaimed land, would be widened to handle additional traffic. The estimated cost of Terminal 2 is $2 billion although Port of Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester has been quoted as saying it could cost up to $3.5 billion.

Panel report notes adverse effects

In March, a review panel, appointed five years earlier by the federal environment minister, issued its 627-page report on the project. The panel found that the construction and operation of Terminal 2 “do not pose major technical challenges,” noted a summary of the key findings. However, the panel also concluded the project “would result in numerous adverse residual and cumulative effects.” They include “significant adverse and cumulative effects on Dungeness crab” and juvenile Chinook salmon, as well as “significant cumulative effects” on barn owls.

The proposal has run into plenty of opposition. Opponents include the environmental group Against Port Expansion; Global Container Terminals Inc., which operates Deltaport and has a proposal to expand that operation; and the City of Delta, which is the municipality nearest the Terminal 2 site.

In July 2020, Delta city council voted to send a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson requesting that Terminal 2 “not be approved,” according to minutes of the meeting. The motion, which only one council member opposed, cited federal review panel report findings such as the potential effects on the ecosystem, killer whales, fish, birds, and humans as well as on First Nations cultural heritage and land use.

Canadian Sailings requested comment from Delta Mayor George Harvie, who supported the motion, but didn’t receive a response by deadline. That November, Richmond Mayor Richard Brodie wrote a letter to Delta’s mayor and council supporting their opposition to Terminal 2.

Port’s mandate is facilitating trade

“Our mandate is to act in the best interest of Canadians overall and do what’s right in terms of facilitating Canada’s trade,” Mr. Wilson said. “Sometimes there will be disagreements with local governments, which may or may not want to be the host of that infrastructure. But ultimately, we need to do what’s right for Canada.” Nevertheless, he added that the port is committed to working with municipalities, “and everyone, frankly.” The port meets regularly with staff in Delta and Richmond “and will continue to do so,” he said.

In response to the news of Delta’s opposition in July, the Port noted that port activity produces $8 million in annual property taxes for the city as well as $1 billion in economic activity and 4,800 well-paying jobs, The Delta Optimist reported at the time. According to the Terminal 2 website, during construction the project would create 12,700 person years of employment, and contribute $300 million in taxes to all government levels. “In this particular case, we’re trying to grow the gateway in the interests of Canadians, in one of the most densely populated if not the most densely populated areas of the country, adjacent to 16 municipalities,” Mr. Wilson said. “It’s a challenging job. And sometimes, it means that we’re not going to always be able to agree.”

Electronic petition filed

In December 2020, Against Port Expansion submitted an electronic petition to the House of Commons calling on the federal government to deny approval. A press release announcing the petition reiterated APE’s beefs with the project, including that it will put at risk migratory seabirds that rely the Roberts Banks wetlands. However, APE also blamed Vancouver Fraser Port Authority for the delay in the environmental assessment process. APE says the Port Authority has pushed out until summer of 2021 a deadline for responding to a request from the environment minister.

“The environmental assessment for this project has been ongoing for seven years,” APE’s news release stated. “If the Port cannot finally get its own story complete, then surely it is time for the government to say enough is enough and close the project down.”

Mr. Wilson said the Port Authority is working diligently with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada to provide that requested information. “And we’re confident that we can build the project and mitigate for its impacts,” Mr. Wilson said. “We’re doing the heavy lifting now so that we can put the government in the position to be able to make a favourable decision later this year.” Meanwhile, he noted that the Port now has in place 19 agreements with Indigenous communities, about twice as many as a year earlier. However, the port still hasn’t reached an agreement with the Tsawwassen First Nation.

“I can’t speak to individual agreements,” Mr. Wilson said. “But obviously Tsawwassen is particularly important because they are host to where the terminal will be located and it is immediately adjacent to their Treaty lands.” Mr. Wilson said he couldn’t discuss the status of negotiations with the Tsawwassen First Nation but called the relationship “positive.” Nevertheless, in its 48 pages of closing remarks to the environmental assessment review panel in August 2019, the Tsawwassen First Nation said the project “has created real concerns” for its members about “potential adverse impacts to the connections, values and way of life that support their distinctive cultural identity as the ‘People facing the sea.’”

And more recently, Tsawwassen Chief Ken Baird, who had last year declined an interview request from Canadian Sailings, told The Narwhal online news site, “It’s becoming harder to be stewards of the Salish Sea.” Among the concerns raised are that Terminal 2 would reduce the abundance of Dungeness crab, a staple for the Tsawwassen people.