PUBLIC consultations are set to begin this week on a proposed $120-million expansion to Richardson International's grain-handling terminal along North Vancouver's Low Level Road.
If approved, the expansion would increase grain storage at the port terminal and increase its annual handling capacity to five million tonnes per year from existing volumes of three million tonnes a year.
"It's certainly a very significant investment," said Tracey Shelton, director of corporate communications for Richardson. "It's also a very critical investment for our business."
Shelton said the grain-handling facility is currently operating at full capacity.
The project would involve construction of a new 80,000-tonne concrete grain storage silo on the east side of Richardson's waterfront terminal, along with conveyers and dust filter systems.
The expansion could potentially double the number of grain-laden railcars arriving at the terminal from 150 to 300 annually.
It would also add 40 or 50 permanent jobs to the current workforce of 100, said Shelton.
The expansion proposal is being put forward as worldwide shortages have pushed up the demand for Canadian wheat and boosted grain prices.
"Canada is a major exporter of grains and oil seed to the world. Vancouver is by far our largest (port) facility," said Shelton, adding the North Vancouver bulk terminal has also been recognized as one of the most efficient port-handling facilities. "We need to increase our capacity."
If approved, construction of the 55metre tall storage facility and related works is expected to take about two years.
Port Metro Vancouver has jurisdiction over the expansion proposal. Before any decisions are made, Richardson must consult with neighbours, the City of North Vancouver and First Nations.
Notices recently went out to nearby residents and a list of about 600 additional stakeholders including other port tenants and businesses.
Richardson is hosting both an open house at the Pinnacle Hotel this Wednesday evening and a more formal stakeholder meeting Thursday morning.
Impacts of construction, potential noise from additional railcars and the impact of the proposed silo on neighbouring views in the 400-and 500-blocks of East First Street are all potential concerns, said Rod Clark, councillor for the City of North Vancouver who lives in the neighbourhood.
Clark said it was "interesting" that Richardson's application was submitted directly after the city approved the controversial Low Level Road upgrade earlier this summer, adding he would have preferred to see the proposals come forward at the same time.
He said residents will have a chance to make their views known through the consultation process.
"It's not like it's going to happen in the middle of the night."
Richardson joins a growing list of North Vancouver port operators who are either planning or in the midst of expansions.
Last year, Neptune Terminals completed an expansion of its potash-handling facility, which increased its handling capacity to 11 million tonnes and boosted its workforce to 300 from a previous 250.
The company is also in the process of a $63.5 million upgrade of its coal-handling facility, which will increase the terminal's coal-handling capacity to 12.5 million tonnes from its present eight million tonnes.
Washington Marine Group's Vancouver Shipyards is also in the process of significant capital upgrades to get ready to build noncombat ships for the Canadian navy under a multi-billion dollar agreement.
Open houses on Richardson's plans will be held Oct. 3 and 11 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Pinnacle Hotel. Stakeholder meetings, at the same location, will take place Oct. 4 from 9 to 11 a.m., Oct. 10 from 1 to 3 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. and Oct. 11 from 2 to 4 p.m.