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Protesters question objectivity of Richmond pipeline review

One might hope paying for an independent study as an "act of goodwill" would pull an organization closer to the group who challenges it most. Not so in the case of VAFFC versus VAPOR, two bodies which are now further apart than before.

One might hope paying for an independent study as an "act of goodwill" would pull an organization closer to the group who challenges it most. Not so in the case of VAFFC versus VAPOR, two bodies which are now further apart than before.

VAFFC - a consortium of airlines, which wants to control its own fuel supply by barging jet fuel up the south arm of the Fraser River, off-loading into storage tanks at a marine terminal and then piping it through Richmond to YVR - commissioned what it calls an "independent, third party" study of its preferred plan and three other options, alternatives, which it says were put forth over the years by the City of Richmond and the public.

VAPOR - a grass-roots protest group born in Richmond to campaign against the consortium's plan for environmental reasons - rubbished the so-called independent review, mainly because the study didn't include its favoured option of running a fuel pipe all the way from a refinery in Washington State to the airport.

The study, carried out by marine and environmental specialist engineers Golder Associates and Ausenco-Sandwell, favoured the consortium's plan.

As well as VAFFC's plan, the three options studied were: An upgrade of the existing pipeline from Burnaby; an offshore Sea Island terminal; and a Fraser River north arm barge facility.

Adrian Pollard, VAFFC's project director, was asked Thursday why VAPOR's favoured plan for the one pipe from Washington State wasn't even considered in the review.

"It's so far down the VAFFC's list of alternatives that we didn't see it as a particular one for the study," explained Pollard. "There are very difficult circumstances around committing ourselves to one supply point. So that was not deemed appropriate to study when there are better local options to be studied.

"The ones that were studied were raised by the City of Richmond and the public. The VAPOR plan to go to Cherry Point (Washington State) is also fairly recent."

Pollard added he does, to a certain extent, feel more confident of his organization's chosen fuel delivery option after the study's findings were known, even though the results will not be considered as part of the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office's (BCEAO) review.

"_ the independent review was simply done voluntarily, as an act of goodwill to try to help answer people's questions through an independent third party," Pollard added.

Otto Langer, a retired marine biologist and VAPOR's resident expert, said VAFFC's decision to omit the Washington State pipeline from the study will come back to bite them.

"This study is not good, almost opinion-based and overly subjective," Langer said.

"It misses out on many options mentioned in the year-old documents before BCEAO and, above all, misses out or neglects to include the best option (in terms of) public safety, environment and ease and economy: the pipeline from the (Washington State refinery to YVR.)

"This deliberate neglect of this obvious option is very obvious and has to haunt the credibility of VAFFC and its supporting airlines such as Air Canada, Westjet, Air China, KLM, etc."

Pollard, on the other hand, does feel the study addresses many of the questions associated with the options to build offshore marine receiving terminals.

"I know it has answered technical questions from some of the agencies about the offshore options and sheds more light on those difficulties. Whereas, to date, it was more the opinion of the VAFFC," Pollard said.

And as for the credibility or impartiality of the study being questioned, Pollard cited the fact the two firms which carried it out "are two of the most highly qualified in the industry."

"We can't escape being accused of commissioning a study for our own benefit, but the (two firms) have a great reputation, and I don't think they'd want to risk that," he said.

Langer, however, does not hold the marine engineering firms in such high regard and referred to one of them being involved in the recent Cohen Commission into the fate of the Fraser River salmon.

"The Golder firm recently completed and presented before the Cohen Commission (as hired by Cohen) a study of impacts of industry etc. on the Lower Fraser," Langer said.

"This study was terrible and even the Cohen lawyers went out of their way to discredit the study done for them!

"VAFFC is actually their own worst enemy, and they should take their blinkers off and look at legitimate and realistic options like ARCO pipeline that is win-win for all involved and will be cheaper to run in the long term."

And to the common accusation thread that VAFFC's motive is to merely source cheaper fuel?

"Our main intention is to open up the supply," Pollard said. "Yes, that can create better competition and better pricing. We have only two supply points and the region continues to expand. So the only way to deal with that is to build our own facility.

"If it wasn't this project, it would be something else. We have to do something."

The public can comment on VAFFC's addendum for the route of the pipeline until Feb. 1 on the BCEAO's website.