EXPORTS of coal and grain from Port Metro Vancouver's North Shore facilities were steady throughout 2012, while potash exports took a tumble.
But exports are headed into record territory in the coming years, the port's management predicted in its annual summary releases on Friday.
For grain, which gets loaded at Richardson International and Cargill Canada, it was a "very solid year," according to Robin Silvester, PMV's president and CEO.
"Just fractionally below our 15.8 million tonnes of grain last year," he said. "It would be safe to assume that Richardson (International) and Cargill (Canada) have had good, strong years."
Coal exports from all of PMV were up two per cent in 2012, though a shipping accident at Westshore Terminals resulted in a damaged elevator and lost productivity. That means Neptune Bulk Terminals likely had a busier than usual year, as it picked up the slack at the end of 2012, Silvester said.
Potash exports via Neptune were down 25 per cent in 2012, owing largely to 2011 being a record-setting year and a slowdown in shipping as exporter Canpotex negotiated a new agreement with China, Silvester added.
"Our expectation is that coming through 2013, we'll see potash volumes growing again," he said.
Silvester expects modest gains throughout 2013, but the big jumps in export growth will come in a few years when major expansions to export capacity come online.
"All three of those bulk products, in the medium-term, we expect to see really healthy growth," he said. "If anything, the existing capacity may be the constraint but I think we'll see a bit of growth in each of them."
Neptune has been given the OK to invest millions in infrastructure to nearly double its coal export capacity in the next two years and Richardson has applied to construct another 45metre concrete silo to boost its annual output. "Richardson, clearly, is still subject to the permit being issued. It's still in consultation and technical review. If they are successful in that application and we are able to issue a permit, I think that's probably going to be a two-year or more construction timeline," Silvester said.
Both applications have led to local controversy, with residents concerned about the increase of industrial noise, dust and the loss of inlet views. "Those are concerns that we absolutely do want to have people engage in the conversation with us on because we have a very robust permitting process and we do a lot of work to consider all those sorts of issues and make sure they're properly dealt with in the permit," Silvester said.
When it comes to the criticism of the port's role in exporting coal and the impact that may have on climate change, it is simply outside the port's narrowly defined mandate, Silvester added.
"The broad-based concerns about climate change and coal's contribution to that globally and whether we should be exporting coal, that's clearly an important discussion for some people to have. I think that it's a discussion that should take place and industry could get more broadly involved in," Silvester said. "But that's not really something that's a relevant consideration in the port's permitting process because we don't decide what Canada trades. We don't define national trade policy. Our role is to make sure that the capacity to trade the commodities that Canada decides it wants to trade is created in an efficient and responsible manner, considering the concerns of the community and considering the environment as well as the efficiency of the supply chain."