ENVIRONMENTALISTS are questioning the process used by Port Metro Vancouver last month when it approved plans by Neptune Terminals to double the amount of coal moving through its North Vancouver port terminal.
The group Voters Taking Action on Climate Change charges the port "weighed comments in support of expanding coal exports more favourably than those opposed," said Kathryn Harrison, a director of the environmental group, in a press statement. Harrison called that an "apparent bias" that is "deeply troubling."
Before making its decision, the port received 375 emails and letters in support of the project, including 360 identical emails sent on the same date. The form letters, which were also sent to City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto, tout coal as a clean fuel and economic engine. The port also received 640 letters and emails opposed to the project, including 295 copies of a single email. Another four form letters resulted in 84 emails to the port.
Excluding duplicated letters, the port received 265 letters and emails in opposition to the project and 16 emails in support, the environmental group pointed out.
The group said the port should reverse its decision on Neptune's upgrades until a transparent public review can take place.
"If the Port Authority wants to restore public confidence and meet its goal of being a good neighbour to Metro Vancouver communities, it should hit rewind on both the Neptune and Fraser Surrey Docks coal export approval processes and invite broad public participation in these decisions," said Kevin Washbrook, director of the group, in a press release.
Washbrook added the group has asked West Coast Environmental Law to see if there is any basis for a legal challenge of the decision.
Meanwhile, the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce has signed on to a letter from the coal industry supporting the approval of the expansion plans.
The local business association signed a letter to Port Metro Vancouver from mining companies and industry groups, B.C. business groups and port employers applauding the decision.
"We've been hearing a lot on the news about why coal is bad," said Louise Ranger, president of the North Vancouver chamber.
"We're a port community," said Ranger. "Neptune's a really important community player here."
Ranger said it's important to recognize the importance of the high-paying jobs and economic spin-offs port industries bring to the local economy.
"We're talking about $40 million in economic spending," said Ranger of the spin-off benefits of Neptune's expansion. "That's pretty significant."
Most of the people the chamber hears from on the coal issue are businesses wanting to know how to get on Neptune's purchasing list, she said.
"We just have to speak out and say this is really good news in a lot of ways."
Neptune applied in June 2012 for approval of plans to purchase new equipment that would allow coal trains to be unloaded faster and ultimately result in 18 million tonnes of metallurgical coal moving through the port.
The upgrades will likely mean one extra train coming into the terminal each day, and an extra two ships every three weeks. The trains will likely be 152 cars long, as opposed to the 126-car trains currently used at the terminal.