Opponents call pipeline review 'unfair and unjust'

Otto Langer speaks in opposition of a project to barge jet fuel up the South Arm of the Fraser River. - Matthew Hoekstra photo
Otto Langer speaks in opposition of a project to barge jet fuel up the South Arm of the Fraser River.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra photo

A decision to allow jet fuel tankers on the Fraser River sets a "terrible precedent" for the future of the world's largest salmon river and its estuary, a citizens' group said Friday.

Otto Langer, a retired fisheries biologist and member of Vancouver Airport Project Opposition for Richmond, or VAPOR, said senior governments largely ignored the potential threat to the Fraser, and the federal government put itself in a conflict of interest by using Port Metro Vancouver—which will lease land for an offloading facility—as its voice during the environmental review.

"The federal government has neutered environmental protection legislation and has delegated environmental project review to Port Metro Vancouver who is now promoting massive development in the estuary and on our last remaining farmlands in the Fraser River delta," said Langer in a statement.

Announced Thursday (Dec. 12) afternoon, Environment Minister Mary Polak granted a conditional environmental assessment certificate to Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation for its $100-million project to deliver jet fuel to YVR. The airlines consortium will barge fuel up the Fraser River to a new tank farm at Riverport, where it will then be transported to the airport via underground pipeline.

B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office, which began its review in 2009, concluded there will be no significant adverse impacts.

But the project wasn't reviewed properly, contends the citizens' group, which is considering a legal challenge of the ruling.

"In that VAPOR strongly feels that the review process has been unfair and unjust, we have obtained the services of a legal firm to examine the process over the past three years and the approval decision," noted Langer.

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie called a news conference late Thursday to relay his disappointment.

"We believe the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office process was flawed. Only one option was reviewed in the EAO process, even though there are many other options to address the airlines’ fuel needs. The community expects more than such a single-minded approach to an issue of this magnitude," he said.

Brodie added the city acknowledges the need for a reliable and adequate fuel system, but called the assumptions used to justify the project "questionable."

"This project is supposed to meet the needs of the airlines for the next 50 years. But no one can accurately predict the long-term needs of the airline industry over that time frame. What will the industry look like in 50 years? What fuels will be used? How much fuel capacity will be needed?"

A new pipeline isn't needed in the short term, the mayor said, allowing more time to review other options with less environmental and safety risks.

Said Brodie: "There may be low probability of an incident occurring, but as has been seen in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere it only takes one major incident to happen and the impact to the environment and public safety could be catastrophic."

As for the pipeline that will travel across Richmond, the exact route hasn't been finalized, according to project officials, but it will travel north along Highway 99 and under the Middle Arm to the airport.

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