The “No plans to dredge the Fraser” plan

Dredging ship, Fraser River Pile & Dredge

Removal of the George Massey Tunnel to enable deeper dredging could begin the excruciating demise of the Fraser as the world’s greatest salmon river. In my view, truth has been another casualty.

Let’s focus on the government talking point of “no plans to dredge.” Whenever the intended channel dredging for larger ships comes out, the BC transport minister or a surrogate typically jumps in to say “no plans to dredge” or something much the same.

If you followed the Trump election campaign, you know the stratagem. There, it was “build a wall and make Mexico pay for it” and “replace Obamacare with something terrific” and “never going to lose.” Mantras got drummed in.

With the “no plans to dredge” mantra in the Massey project, there’s a twist that the project’s 2012 discussion guide (page 11) says the tunnel is “an impediment to expanded trade at Fraser Surrey Docks and points east along the Fraser River” because “many of the newer ocean-going vessels are too large to pass over the tunnel.”

Documents from the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (in a 2013 letter to the Massey project director and in the 2013 president’s report) and from Fraser Surrey Docks express proposals to dredge deeper. With the tunnel gone, they would increase the channel depth by at least two metres to suit larger vessels, some over 80,000 tonnes.

One could say that doesn’t entirely conflict with “no plans to dredge,” since intents to dredge may not be “plans” in every sense. Still, the mantra is misleading.

In 2015 the port authority agreed to Fraser Surrey Docks revising its plans for its thermal coal shipping terminal so it could load large ships (at least Panamax). Since they could only reach the terminal after tunnel removal and deeper dredging, it is obvious that both the port and FSD were planning on the dredging.

Later, the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) report on the Massey project (pages 122) has revealed that the public and Musqueam Indian Band, among others, expressed concerns to the EAO about “a larger plan to dredge the South Arm Fraser River to deepen the channel and accommodate larger vessels,” with “industrialization of the Fraser River.”

But the transport ministry claimed, in response to the EAO, to be “unaware of any plans to dredge the river deeper” (EAO report, page 123). And the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (VFPA) “confirmed that VFPA currently has no plans to dredge the Fraser River to create a wider or deeper navigation channel” (EAO page 123).

Since the BC Environmental Assessment Office is toothless in this situation, it had to go along with the ministry’s plea it didn’t know anything and the port’s plea it wasn’t planning anything.

“Plan” or not, the documented proposal is to dredge deeper (and wider) in five annual stages. FSD has proposed to simply dredge a little deeper while doing the annual maintenance of the shipping channel. If the project stays on schedule, with tunnel removal in 2022, that step would enable the channel to be used at the new depth of at least 13.5 metres.

In a further twist, the BC EAO report adds, “VFPA also noted that projects proposing new dredging to accommodate vessels that are larger than what the existing channel was designed to accommodate . . . would be subject to review under VFPA’s Project and Environmental Review process” (EAO page 123).

Translation: “Dredging for larger ships will actually occur after all, and the VFPA (alias Port of Vancouver) will handle the environmental protection.” So the fox gets exclusive rights to guard the henhouse.

_______________

Notes: See “Tunnel removal to deep-dredge the Fraser” for more documentation of the planning for deep dredging of the Fraser River ship channel. See Let the Fraser Live! for an exposé of how the situation came to this. See “Transport minister’s myth-busting mission” for an alternative perspective (different from this blog’s).

Update, September 26, 2017: On the very day of the televised leaders debate for the 2017 BC Election, Premier Christy Clark has suddenly found a reason to ask Prime Minister Trudeau to ban thermal coal exports from BC ports. It aims at the thermal coal from the U.S., and it would especially affect the Fraser Surrey Docks situation. Here’s the Clark-to-Trudeau letter.

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