Minister of Environment Terry Lake defended the work of the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office, calling the public consultation process of the proposed jet fuel storage facility on the Fraser River's south arm a "good example" of the early stages of the assessment process.
"I would say it's an example of how it has succeeded. The public and city council and Richmond's MLAs shared expressed concerns and the EAO heard all those things and the proponent is now going back to reexamine the other options," Lake said.
But not everyone, including Richmond's mayor, agrees the process has been adequate.
Lake also said his ministry is taking a "hard look" at whether or not the EAO requires more funding or human resources in the wake of a report earlier this month from B.C.'s Auditor General, which criticized the office's inability to properly measure, monitor, and enforce environmental commitments on major industrial projects. Lake noted the report did not look into the pre-approval assessment process, which includes public consultation.
As he noted, the project's proponent, Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation, has indicated it is looking at moving the location of a planned fuel pipeline to Highway 99 from No. 5 Road. A new proposal is expected by the end of August.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said while city council and staff have had several meetings with the project proponent, VAFFC, the quality of communication leaves something to be desired.
"The challenge is not so much voicing an opinion, the problem I see is the position we've taken has been ignored," he said of his city's opposition to the storage facility.
Brodie said he was puzzled at how the VAFFC came up with the option to ship fuel up the Fraser River via barges and Panamax tankers when other options were readily apparent, such as upgrading a current pipeline that comes from Burnaby to supply the airport.
Carol Day, chair of VAPOR, a grassroots organization of Richmond and Delta residents opposed to the plan, said the public consultation process undertaken by VAFFC was a "farce." "It was public information, not consultation," she said.
Day's criticisms came as no surprise to environmental lawyer Mark Haddock of the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria.
"The EAO follows a review and comment type of model that leaves a lot of people frustrated because they don't feel properly engaged or consulted," Haddock said.
Ironically, VAFFC volunteered to take the proposal to the EAO for assessment, acknowledging the public's interest in mitigating the risks of a fuel spill. It was not required because the facility, which would store 500 million barrels of fuel, is under the threshold for an automatic review.
Nevertheless, a federal environmental assessment of the facility would have still taken place since the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority would be leasing federal land to VAFFC.