Delta backs inland port option

Civic officials organizing tour of Ashcroft facility in effort to preserve farmland adjacent to Roberts Bank

Delta is organizing a tour of the Village of Ashcroft's container terminal with Lower Mainland port, rail and trucking officials.

The fact-finding tour will take place in a couple of weeks. It's the latest effort by Delta to convince those looking at port expansion at Roberts Bank that the Ashcroft inland terminal proposal remains a viable alternative.

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A meeting organized by Mayor Lois Jackson has already taken place with various stakeholders, as well as Ashcroft Mayor Andy Anderson and the terminal owner, to discuss the alternative link for the Asia-Pacific Gateway corridor.

Jackson said the Ashcroft terminal benefited from a multimillion dollar investment from Ottawa. This took place as Delta lost agricultural land to the South Fraser Perimeter Road, Tsawwassen First Nation and Deltaport container terminal expansion, she stated in a letter last summer to various provincial and federal ministers.

"As a council, we are extremely concerned that additional agricultural lands in Delta will be lost to the continued expansion of Deltaport and to satisfy the need for industrialized land to support port-related container-handling activities," Jackson said.

Noting the Ashcroft terminal is ready for business with its direct CP and CN Rail main lines connecting with Deltaport, Jackson said, "We cannot afford to lose any more prime agricultural land when viable alternatives exist to accommodate the growing need for industrial land."

She described the Ashcroft proposal as a win-win for both regions in that Delta and the Lower Mainland would benefit from reduced truck traffic, as well as the preservation of agricultural land, while the Thompson Nicola region would get a boost from the economic stimulus.

Peter Xotta, Port Metro Vancouver's vice-president of operations, told the Optimist the port has agreed to get more information and participate in the discussion, which is essentially a proposal to augment port expansion plans in South Delta.

Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington said many companies and individuals, including opposition MLAs, have made the trip and found the inland port to be a viable and exciting addition to the Gateway concept.

Europe makes extensive use of inland ports in order to relieve the industrial pressure on their marine terminals and it is time Port Metro Vancouver also decided to move in that direction, she said.

Huntington added Ashcroft makes increasing sense to both CN and CP, given it is the only location on both main rail lines.

"I also think it is important to note that the federal government is a strong supporter of the inland port concept and is partnering with Ashcroft Terminals on an infrastructure project.

There is absolutely everything to gain by making the Pacific Gateway a concept that provides jobs and business to locations other than the Port of Vancouver. It is, after all, about growing B.C., not just Vancouver port," she said.

Huntington said she has been briefed on the local discussions and hopes to take part in the tour.

However, it's not clear if the upcoming fact-finding mission will have any chance of altering plans for container capacity expansion in Delta.

Xotta noted that although they're willing to look at proposals, they also have to take into account the demands of the supply chain.

"The way the supply chain works is dependent largely on the fundamental economics and the decision of private companies in the logistics industry. So we kind of view it as something that's interesting for us to understand and, to the extent we can be supportive of something industry wants to do, we would look at that," he said.

"So far, it appears to us that the economic conditions to make that desirable for those in industry haven't quite made it there yet, but who knows when that tipping point will be reached.

At this point, we're still in a fact-finding mode."

In a letter to Jackson last summer, former provincial transportation minister Blair Lekstron said an inland container terminal analysis seven years ago found the best location is as close to the port terminal as possible to maximize the efficiency of port-related truck operations. He also noted the best location for an out-bound container transload facility is as close to the source of exports as possible to maximize the efficiency of long-haul railway operations.

According to Metro Vancouver, based on container traffic forecasts, improvements to existing infrastructure will not be enough to meet demand in the long-term.

The port authority notes it's still in the early stages of planning and development for the Roberts Bank Terminal 2, a new three-berth terminal that would be constructed next to the existing container facility.

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