The federal government has approved the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s contentious plans for the Roberts Bank Terminal 2, or RBT2. Upon completion of RBT2, container capacity would rise by nearly 50% at Canada’s largest port. 

Port authority president Robin Silvester said the Canadian economy will prosper from the new terminal. “It’s critical to have capacity and have a competitive export gateway,” he said in an interview.

The port is also touting RBT2 as a crucial expansion of shipping-container capacity to meet an anticipated jump in imports of consumer goods from China, Japan, South Korea and other parts of Asia. “It’s so important to have capacity in this gateway, to preserve affordability for Canadians for those goods that we depend on being brought to us from around the world,” Mr. Silvester said.

The project underwent a decade-long environmental review process led by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, before gaining approval from the federal government. The port, which started public consultations in 2011, is pleased to finally get the green light.

The port must still obtain various permits from federal departments, including Fisheries and Oceans, as well as Environment and Climate Change Canada. The painstaking steps of preliminary work are expected to take about three years, including attracting a terminal operator, before construction even begins.

The port estimates 3,000 direct and indirect jobs will be created during more than six years of construction and then at least 800 full-time jobs at the new terminal once it’s up and running. Union leaders are opposed to RBT2, saying they’re worried about the magnitude of automation during operations.

Roger Emsley, executive director of the Against Port Expansion community group, said he is disappointed by the federal approval of plans for RBT2′s three-berth container terminal. RBT2 will trigger a decline in mudflat biofilms, a critical food source for migratory and other shorebirds, including western sandpipers, he said. “The fight to save the Fraser estuary and Roberts Bank from environmental degradation is by no means over,” Mr. Emsley said.

Critics say the Vancouver port’s RBT2 plans are too costly. They point out that the Port of Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia has its own vision to expand container capacity by two million TEUs, reusable steel boxes measured as 20-foot equivalent units, a year by the early 2030s, more than doubling existing capacity at that port.

The first phase of RBT2 is designed to add 1.6 million TEUs a year by 2033, then 800,000 TEUs a year in a second phase to be finished by 2036. When RBT2 is fully completed, the additional capacity from the new terminal would represent a 34% increase compared with today’s combined capacity at the Port of Vancouver and the Port of Prince Rupert.

Environmental groups are slamming the federal government for giving the go-ahead to the project, including criticisms from the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, Georgia Strait Alliance, Wilderness Committee and Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

During a news conference, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson emphasized that the federal government’s project approval is subject to 370 legally binding conditions. He said the port authority has reached impact benefit agreements with 26 Indigenous groups consenting to the project, including the Musqueam Indian Band and Tsawwassen First Nation.

One of the port authority’s tenants, GCT Global Container Terminals Inc., runs the existing site near Delta. GCT wants to expand its three-berth Deltaport terminal and opposes its landlord’s plans to build the artificial island that would be located near GCT’s site and Westshore Terminals Investment Corp.’s coal-export facility.

Under GCT’s rival Deltaport 4 plans to construct a fourth berth, the company is proposing to add two million TEUs a year to increase its annual capacity to 4.4 million TEUs by the early 2030s.

Marko Dekovic, GCT vice-president of public affairs, said RBT2′s plans to construct the artificial island are counterproductive. “RBT2 will be the world’s most expensive container terminal expansion project. It has no terminal operator in place, and it creates environmental impacts that Environment and Climate Change Canada concluded are unmitigable,” Mr. Dekovic said in an e-mail.

At the Port of Vancouver, GCT runs the Deltaport and Vanterm container terminals, while DP World PLC operates the Centerm container terminal and the multipurpose Fraser Surrey Docks. The port authority reports to Transport Minister Omar Alghabra.

Source: Globe and Mail