Richmond council demands public hearing for pipeline

Richmond city council is demanding a public hearing on a proposal to ship jet fuel to Riverport and pump it across Richmond to the airport.

"A pipeline and supertankers on the river...are something of major environmental significance," said Coun. Harold Steves Monday.

Steves and his council colleagues called on the province to hold a full public hearing into the proposal after hearing a presentation from Port Metro Vancouver officials at city hall.

The port is acting on behalf of the federal government in reviewing the proposal's impacts, which are subject of an environmental assessment now on hold. The review is awaiting results of a port-led study probing impacts of tankers on the South Arm.

Since that information wasn't available during earlier public consultation, Steves, who characterized the port-led study and its power in the review "a loaded deck," argued a public hearing is needed.

Mayor Malcolm Brodie said the port stands to benefit by offering a favourable ruling, since the proponent needs port land to build a tank farm for jet fuel.

"If nothing else it gives you that conflict. It's in your financial interest to say this is a good idea," Brodie told port officials. "If you're financially involved in a decision, that gives you a conflict and you have to get away from it. You cannot be a decision-maker in that kind of situation."

Brodie said the latest study will do nothing more than suggest how oil tankers can safely travel the South Arm.

But CEO Robin Silvester told council Port Metro Vancouver is committed to a "rigorous" environmental assessment process. He also defended that process, which combines required reviews from senior governments.

"It makes sense to have a harmonized process so you don't ask the same question twice," he said.

Coun. Ken Johnston questioned why the port is even considering the proposal, given the potential for disaster on its land.

"We can't arbitrarily choose not to do something," said Silvester. "We have to have a reason that is objective rather than subjective for not willing to do it."

A consortium of airlines, the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation, is proposing to build an underground pipeline stretching up to 15 kilometres and connecting the airport with a marine terminal near Riverport. Panamax-class tankers would transport fuel from Asia up the Fraser River's South Arm and unload at an 80-million-litre tank farm before being pumped to the airport.

Council also quizzed port officials on the Gilmore farm—Richmond farmland recently purchased by the port. Silvester said the land will continue as a farm in the "medium term," while the port completes a "land planning process."

As for the port using farmland for industrial uses, Silvester said there are "significant pressures" in the Lower Mainland with its "constrained land base."

Said Silvester: "We need to have that conversation."

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