Coal trains already move on the BNSF railway through White Rock and Delta

Surrey mayor taking no stand yet on coal terminal

Groups aim to thwart exports, increased carbon emissions as more U.S. coal seeks outlet to Asia

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts says she’s taking no position yet on Fraser Surrey Docks’ proposal to build a controversial new coal export terminal in her city on the Fraser River.

Mayors from Delta and Vancouver have already voiced concern about plans to ramp up coal exports and the proposed new terminal in Surrey and the expansion of an existing one in North Vancouver are under fire from climate change activists.

Port Metro Vancouver says it has referred the two proposals to the cities of Surrey and North Vancouver for comment.

But Watts said she was not yet aware of any request for council to take a position.

“When we get it, we’ll have a look,” she said. “We need to make sure we have all the information before us before we have a position one way or another.”

Watts said the city’s chief concern is that the public be adequately consulted.

Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt said Thursday no city residents have raised the issue with him.

In a letter to the port released this week, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said he’s concerned the two proposals, making Metro Vancouver North America’s largest coal exporting port, are being considered without full public consultation.

The Fraser Surrey Docks terminal would handle four million tonnes of coal initially, doubling later to eight million.

It would ship thermal coal from the U.S. that would come on coal trains running through White Rock and Delta on the BNSF railway.

A second proposal would let Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver boost exports of metallurgical coal from 12 to 18 milllion tonnes per year.

“It has not been an issue in the community,” said North Vancouver City Mayor Darrell Mussatto, adding the coal is for steel-making, not to burn for power – a coal use he doesn’t support.

His council hasn’t taken any position on the Neptune project.

Outbound coal would go by barge to Texada Island and then be reloaded onto ocean-going ships.

Coal has been exported for more than 40 years from Metro Vancouver via Westshore Terminals in Delta – where a shipping accident Friday dropped some coal into the ocean.

But opponents say more of it – especially thermal coal – appears to be coming from U.S. producers because new terminals proposed in Washington and Oregon have run into determined protests.

As with oil pipeline proposals, environmentalists would like to keep U.S. coal from being burned and adding to greenhouse gas emissons, but the coal terminal projects can be directly approved by port managers, without regulatory hearings or the consent of any other level of government.

The two proposals could boost Metro Vancouver coal exports by more than a third, from 40 to 54 million tonnes per year.

A poll paid for by the Victoria-based Dogwood Initiative found 64 per cent of B.C. respondents were unaware when asked if they’d heard of plans by U.S. coal mining companies to ship coal to Asia via B.C. ports.

And 47 per cent said they oppose letting U.S. firms “export their coal to China and the rest of Asia by way of our ports.”

The questions asked by Justason Market Intelligence made no mention of the fact large volumes of coal already move through Port Metro Vancouver and Prince Rupert.

“Perhaps it’s something we should have considered doing,” said pollster Barb Justason when asked if the 540 respondents might wrongly conclude this is the first time coal exports are being proposed.

“There’s no doubt a proportion of people not aware this already goes on,” she said, adding only so much information can be relayed a survey.