B.C. has issued an environmental assessment certificate for the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 in Delta, a move the government says will help to safeguard provincial interests as the project moves forward.
Proposed by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, the project is a three-berth expansion of Deltaport, the Port of Vancouver’s largest container terminal.
RBT2 would transform more than 1.7 square kilometres of subtidal and tidal waters into a facility capable of handling 260 ships and more than 2.4 million containers a year, increasing the port’s capacity by 50 per cent.
The project would also involve widening the existing causeway to accommodate additional rail infrastructure, adding road connections and utilities, and expanding the existing tug-boat basin.
The federal government approved the project on April 20 subject to 370 legally-binding conditions aimed at protecting the environment, local wildlife and land-use activities of Indigenous peoples.
As well, the port authority must put up $150 million to guarantee there are funds available in the first three years of construction to comply with those conditions — the first time Ottawa has asked that of a proponent.
A press release issued by the province Thursday afternoon (Sept. 28) said Environment Minister George Heyman and Transportation Minister Rob Fleming decided to issue the provincial certificate after carefully considering the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office’s report on the environmental assessment conducted by a federal review panel on behalf of both levels of government.
Specifically, the ministers considered the project’s cumulative effects in the Fraser River and the work ahead to advance reconciliation and support First Nations’ rights and stewardship aspirations in this area; concerns from the public, particularly in the context of existing cumulative effects on the Lower Fraser; and the port expansion’s economic benefits.
The ministers’ laid out the reasons for their decision in a 10-page document included in the certificate package and publicly available at projects.eao.gov.bc.ca/p/588511e3aaecd9001b8274d4/project-details.
In announcing the project’s approval in April, the federal government said the project is expected to create 1,500 direct and 15,000 indirect jobs once built, noting the port currently supports 115,300 jobs across Canada, pays $7 billion in wages and contributes about $12 billion to Canada’s GDP annually.
“Without the expansion project, Canada will lose an estimated $5 billion in net economic benefits to foreign companies and increase the cost of shipped goods to Canada by up to $61.4 billion by 2040,” according to a Government of Canada press release.
Overall cargo volumes at the Port of Vancouver dipped by three per cent in 2022, with container traffic decreasing four per cent after more than a year of trending upward.
In the first six months of 2023, container volumes fell 14 per cent compared with the same period a year earlier as the Canadian economy contracted.
The B.C. certificate comes with 16 legally-enforceable conditions that the port authority must follow to “avoid, minimize or offset the project’s potential adverse effects over its lifespan,” the release states.
Those conditions include creating a wetlands management plan, a land vegetation and wildlife management plan, a community feedback process for addressing questions and concerns from people in the region, environmental management plans for both the construction of the port and its operations to reduce noise and vibration and plan for emergency response and spill prevention, and a greenhouse-gas reduction plan for emissions that includes the project being net-zero by 2050.
The ministers noted that with the project almost entirely on federal lands, within federal jurisdiction and already approved by the federal government, a decision not to issue a B.C. certificate could not prohibit the project from going forward.
Rather, issuing the provincial certificate, which contains requirements on matters that fall under provincial jurisdiction, “safeguards provincial interests,” according to the press release.
In April, five environmental groups launched a combined legal challenge in federal court against the port expansion plan, saying the project’s use of fill to create land for the terminal would disrupt “critical habitat” for the roughly 70 endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.
The group — which includes the David Suzuki Foundation, the Georgia Strait Alliance, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Committee and is represented by environmental law organization Ecojustice — said such actions would contravene the Species at Risk Act, given the project’s environmental impacts on the whales “cannot be fully mitigated.”
In its announcement Tuesday, the province acknowledged parties are seeking a judicial review of the federal decision to approve the project, but said the ministers determined not to delay issuing the provincial certificate to “ensure the project was not advanced without provincial interests within provincial jurisdiction being addressed and effects being mitigated within their ability to do so through certificate conditions.”
While the provincial and federal approvals represent a major hurdle cleared, the port authority’s project website notes there are still several steps to complete before construction on RBT2 can begin.
“This includes obtaining regulatory approvals and permits (such as a Fisheries Act Authorization), ongoing consultation and collaboration with Indigenous groups, assessing market conditions, undertaking procurement, and preparing for a final investment decision,” the page states.
The port authority anticipates construction of Roberts Bank Terminal 2 will begin in 2027 and take about six years to complete, with the facility coming online in the early to mid-2030s.
— with files from Wolfgang Depner/Black Press Media and The Canadian Press