Fraser Surrey Docks operation just across the Fraser River from New Westminster is supposed to add a coal-handling facility

Multiple hurdles hold back Surrey coal terminal

One court challenge ends but others are pending against Fraser Surrey Docks and anti-coal activists believe time is on their side

Opponents of a proposed new coal export terminal on the Fraser River in Surrey have lost one legal challenge, but other court battles and regulatory decisions continue to hold up the project.

Fraser Surrey Docks got approval last summer from Port Metro Vancouver to build the $15-million facility to reload four million tonnes of coal per year from trains rolling through White Rock and South Surrey onto barges, but it has yet to begin construction.

Climate change activists fighting the project tried to overturn the province’s approval of increased coal storage on Texada Island – where the barges are to be emptied and ocean-going freighters loaded – but a B.C. Supreme Court judge last week upheld the government decision.

Another court case filed by Fraser Surrey Docks challenges Metro Vancouver’s jurisdiction over regional air quality on federally regulated port lands.

That case, set to be heard starting in June, resulted from Fraser Surrey Docks’ dispute of a $1,000 ticket it received from Metro for excessive dust emissions from its grain handling operation. It’s expected to be a major test of the region’s authority.

The company has so far held off on applying to Metro for an air quality permit for the coal facility – it won’t need one if it wins in court.

Fraser Surrey Docks has, however, applied for a Metro permit to discharge treated waste water used to wash down incoming coal loads through the sewer system to the Annacis Island treatment plant rather than treating the effluent itself and discharging it to the Fraser River. That’s in the midst of a Metro-ordered period for public comment.

Also working its way through the legal system is a challenge of the port’s approval of the project filed in Federal Court by the opposition group Communities and Coal.

Opponents will argue the port authority failed to consider climate change implications of the project and that it was biased, failing to meaningfully consult stakeholders before issuing the permit.

Anti-coal activist Kevin Washbrook said that case won’t be heard until the fall at the earliest but the cities of Surrey and New Westminster are this month applying for intervenor status to join the case in support of the opposition.

The coal export project would carry U.S. thermal coal from Wyoming for export to Asia but is resisted by neighbours who fear coal dust along the train route as well as climate change activists who hope to keep the coal in the ground.

Time is on their side, Washbrook predicts.

“We’re pushing back on every single front possible,” he said. “But I think the thing that’s going to kill this is China.”

Washbrook said demand from China for imported coal is steadily declining, rapidly eroding the economic case for a new outlet for U.S. coal through B.C.

“I think it’s a question of holding them off as long as we can until they realize there’s just no point any more.”

Fraser Surrey Docks CEO Jeff Scott said no decision has been made to start construction and the earliest the new terminal could be open is mid-2016.

He said the company is in negotiations to secure commitments to use the new coal terminal.

“The price of thermal coal in the marketplace has been dropping, which has forced us to relook at our operation,” Scott said.

“Although we’re reviewing some commercial decisions, we still think our project is viable and we’re still working with customers on that basis.”