Coal town hall in Richmond: Battle against river's industrialization not over

50-strong group rally against industrialization of Fraser's south arm

Despite losing one round in the battle to prevent further industrialization of the Fraser River's south arm earlier in the day, a group of 50 or so gathered in Steveston Thursday night to learn more about how they can protest the plan for coal shipments along the important salmon-bearing waterway.

The group was taking part in a town hall style meeting at the Steveston Community Centre and many declared the fight is far from over to protect the river. But it's one that will require a sustained commitment.

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Steven Faraher-Amidon, a former teacher and member of grass roots protest group called Communities and Coal, said so far his organization has held nine town hall meetings — from South Surrey to Texada Island — which has spawned five other protest organizations and a petition with 12,000 signatures.

"It's made an incredible difference," Faraher-Amidon said. "Five different municipalities — White Rock, Surrey, New Westminster, Vancouver and Langley — have come onboard saying there has to be a full impact health assessment."

Faraher-Amidon added he also believes Communities and Coal has made a difference in slowing down the coal project's implementation.

"They (PMV) wanted the Fraser Surrey Docks terminal started in March. Well, we're a long way past March and they haven't started it."

He said his group's efforts are testament to what can be accomplished, "if people are willing to step in to say, 'Hey, we're not happy with the status quo."

"We are only going to make a difference if we persist, if we stay with the course, and are always present and willing to stand up," he said.

The project garnering the attention is one proposed by Fraser Surrey Docks to use its facility across the river from Annacis Island to act as a transfer site handling coal mined from the Powder Basin area, shared by Wyoming and Montana, and brought by rail to the Lower Mainland.

From the dock, barges would ship the coal down the south arm, past Steveston, and out to a deep sea terminal on Texada Island where it would be loaded on to tankers and exported to China.

If given the go ahead, it would add to the ship traffic along the south arm created by an aviation fuel project green-lighted Thursday afternoon when B.C. Environment Minister, Mary Pollack, announced the province had granted conditional approval to allow an airline consortium to establish an off-loading  facility and fuel tank farm near the foot of No. 7 Road that would supply YVR via a 15 km pipeline running across the city.

Panamax-sized fuel tankers are now expected to ply the waters of the south arm and cause increased the risk to the environment, said Coun. Harold Steves, another one of the speakers at the town hall meeting.

Steves agreed there should be a full health impact assessment on the coal proposal, plus an agricultural impact assessment since dust blowing off the barges carrying coal could settle on surrounding farmland.

"If you got farms along the river, and the wind blows your way, you're gonna have coal dust," Steves said. "And what's in the coal dust? Well, some coal is not too bad. This coal is not too good. It has all kinds of heavy metals — lead, mercury, selenium, and arsenic.

"That's not too good for your health, and not too good for the food that might grow on the farmland that the coal may blow on."

At the close of the meeting, Mayor Malcolm Brodie told the crowd he believes there are, "fundamental changes are envisioned by certain parties for the whole south arm of the Fraser River. And if we don't stand up do something about it, and make our voices heard we're going to come back in 10 or 15 years and the whole area is going to be completely industrialized."

Brodie encouraged the crowd to continue to make their concerns known.

"It's important we do everything we can to preserve the things that are good about the City of Richmond."

The public has until Dec. 17 to submit their views to Port Metro Vancouver on the environment impact assessment which is being conducted by Fraser Surrey Docks. Emails can be sent to:

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