Delta council calls for independent committee to look at proposed coal terminal

Delta council incited applause from many in the gallery Monday night as civic politicians unanimously decided not to support the Fraser Surrey Docks coal terminal proposal until an independent committee is formed to look into concerns.

Many opposed to the proposal, one that would see U.S. thermal coal brought via rail, left last week's meeting frustrated after council deferred a motion requesting an independent health impact assessment of the project.

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Before the council debate Monday, Mayor Lois Jackson said the decision was made last week to give municipal staff more time to research the issue.

"This is a very complex issue, which warrants a detailed review and analysis from all three levels of government," she said. "As mayor of Delta, it is my responsibility to ensure that the information being presented to council and the public is researched, analyzed and transparent. A number of residents are voicing their concerns and requesting an independent health impact assessment. This is something our community deserves."

Jackson also said that as she looked further into the issue and the concerns of opponents, she said it became clear that many do not believe most levels of government, but they do believe Dr. Paul Van Buynder, Fraser Health Authority's chief medical health officer, who has also voiced concerns about health issues associated with coal dust.

Earlier this year, Van Buynder recommended that a comprehensive health impact assessment be undertaken for the proposed project.

Delta will ask Port Metro Vancouver to defer considering the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal until recommendations from an independent interagency review committee, facilitated by the municipality, are received and implemented.

The committee will include a number of agencies and municipalities, including Health Canada, Environment Canada, the provincial ministries of health and environment, Metro Vancouver Air Quality, Surrey, New Westminster and White Rock.

Fraser Surrey Docks recently commissioned its own environmental study that concluded its proposal is "not likely to cause significant adverse effects" on the environment or human health.

Opponents want the port authority to consider the full health and environmental impacts of transporting coal by rail through the region.

However, earlier this month, port CEO Robin Silvester told the Vancouver Board of Trade that the required assessment was complete.

Councillors Jeannie Kanakos and Sylvia Bishop, who voted against deferral last week, were happy with Monday's night's motion.

"I will be the first to admit that I was disappointed last week... little did we know we were all pulling on the same rope," Bishop said. "I fully, fully, fully support this report and hope that work can begin quickly."

Kanakos, who has been vocal in her opposition to the project, said the motion was "in the right direction in protecting the environment and in responding to residents' concerns."

Jackson said she hopes the committee can start meeting as early as next month.

Opponents to the proposal had praise for Delta just one week after many left council chambers angry and frustrated.

Communities and Coal representative Steven Faraher-Amidon said Delta's motion was a great example of vigilance, and the group was happy with Delta's motion.

Communities and Coal is a grassroots group that sprung up earlier this year in opposition to the project. The group found the recently released report unsatisfactory and has been working to rally residents and municipalities. Several local governments, including Surrey, White Rock and New Westminster, have already come out opposed to the proposal pending that assessment.

Last week, Delta school board discussed the matter at a planning meeting and made a decision to support Fraser Health Authority's recommendation that a comprehensive health impact assessment be completed.

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