VANCOUVER – Port Metro Vancouver approved Thursday construction of a controversial coal-shipping facility on the Fraser River, over concerns from local medical health officers and area residents about air quality and the environment.
Fraser Surrey Docks was granted a permit to build the facility to handle four-million metric tonnes of coal from the U.S. Midwest each year.
Peter Xotta, vice-president of planning and operations at the port authority, said the decision was not made lightly. “We have required extensive analysis,” said Xotta. The permit decision brings to an end a process that has dragged on for almost two years.
Concerns focus mainly on the effects of coal dust on air quality and the impact on the region. Global climate change also came into play in the drawn-out debate.
Fraser Surrey Docks hired SNC Lavalin to review the proposal, and the resulting report concluded there would be no significant adverse effects to the environment or people’s health.
But in a letter last November to the company, the chief medical health officers for the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health authorities dismissed the report’s findings.
Dr. Paul Van Buynder and Dr. Patricia Daly said it “does not meet even the basic requirements of a health impact assessment.”
Xotta said subsequent reviews were done, and a third-party assessment of all those reports has now been carried out by an environmental consultant.
Van Buynder said Thursday that he only just received the latest assessment and will have to review the document.
He said he was pleased Port Metro Vancouver understood additional information was needed to make an accurate health assessment.
But he said he was “disappointed” that the port did not take public health officials up on an offer to be involved.
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