The new Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership has a direct impact on Vancouver, which hosts Canada’s largest port.
About $1 in every $3 of what Canada imports and exports beyond North America goes through the Port of Vancouver, and that number is sure to grow with the new trade deal, not to mention the end of NAFTA should that come to pass.
The very significant majority of the additional trade as a result of this new agreement will come via containers, part of a worldwide trend that has favoured their efficiency since they were introduced in the 1950s.
In Vancouver, those containers will leave loaded with Canadian grain, lumber and food products, among other goods. They’ll come back filled with appliances, clothing and other consumer products, as well as auto parts and other manufactured goods.
The resulting challenge for the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority becomes how to manage that growth in the densely populated Lower Mainland, respecting the impact on local communities of more rail and truck traffic, and protecting the environment after necessary project development.
To quote federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau: “We must remember that we can have the best-quality products and the most-ambitious trade agreements in the world, but none of that will matter if we don’t move our goods efficiently and reliably to markets.”
Upgrades to Canada’s largest container terminal, Deltaport, and other terminals to increase their efficiency and reduce their environmental footprint, are complete or underway. Roadways have been improved, including the South Fraser Perimeter Road and North Vancouver’s Low Level Road, to address increased traffic, including to and from the port. Overpasses in Langley and other communities have been built to avoid train crossings and reduce train noise, and a number of similar projects have been put forward for funding from the federal government’s National Trade Corridor Fund.
However, even with all those upgrades to existing terminals, as well as the work underway to handle more containers at Canada’s other major West Coast port in Prince Rupert, independent expert forecasts show it won’t be enough to manage Canada’s future trade demand.
The port authority began studying how best to address the pending shortfall in the late 1990s. Since then, guided by regularly updated, third-party expert forecasts, we’ve determined that Canada needs a new container terminal on the West Coast.
Unfortunately, there is no available land on which to build a new marine container terminal, and therefore new land needs to be created as has been done in many other ports around the world.
After several years of early planning and over six years of environmental research and engineering study, we have determined the best place to locate a new container terminal is next to the port’s Westshore terminal at Roberts Bank. The location already has the needed road and rail connections, and the proposed terminal can be situated in deep ocean waters to the minimize impact on sensitive ecosystems in the Fraser delta, such as eel grass that provides habitat for Chinook salmon and crab-rearing beds closer to shore.
The land base for the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project will be mainly created from sand that is released from the Fraser River each spring during freshet and has to be removed to keep the river from overflowing and the channel open for vessels.
The terminal would feature some automation and provide about 1,500 new jobs, as well as another 11,000 trucking, warehousing and other jobs off the terminal. It wouldn’t require taxpayer funding, since the port authority is financially self-sustaining despite its federal parentage.
The Terminal 2 project is undergoing a review by an independent panel appointed by the federal minister of environment and climate change. The panel will challenge the environmental science, assess if, after mitigation, the project is likely to have a significant environmental effect and provide recommendations to the minister.
If approved, the new terminal will be built just in time to manage all those new containers being shipped to and from our nation.
Robin Silvester is president and chief executive officer of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.
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