NEPTUNE Terminals can likely double the amount of steelmaking coal being handled at its North Vancouver location following Wednesday's Port Metro Vancouver decision to approve a major upgrade.
Moving from exporting nine million tonnes of metallurgical coal to 18 million tonnes required a 12-metre tall dumper, conveyors, and a new, longer shiploader boom that Neptune applied for last June.
The new equipment is designed to allow coal trains to be unloaded faster at the terminal and is expected to create 185 permanent jobs.
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.
The primary objections to the upgrade were global environmental concerns and local worries about carcinogenic coal dust.
"It's our job to keep the coal that we handle on our terminal," said Jim Belsheim, president of Neptune Terminals. Neptune deals with changing weather conditions by utilizing three micro-weather stations that judge wind and humidity and add water to the coal pile when needed.
The coal pile should be reduced by about 10 per cent once Neptune's enhancement is complete, according to Belsheim.
Neptune plays a long-term rule in improving air quality, according to Belsheim.
"It's part of the solution for improving the environment," he said. "Bicycles are made of steel, rapid transit's made of steel."
While thermal coal is generally burned to produce energy, metallurgical coal is heated in an oven and reduced to a solid carbon mass which is then used to create iron ore or steel.
Differences among types of coal are insignificant when considering the broader impacts on global warming, according to Kevin Washbrook, the director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change.
Washbrook alleged the upgrade could contribute to respiratory problems among residents exposed to coal dust from the site or from the trains used for transportation. When it comes to the daily operations at Neptune, the terminal is under the authority of Metro Vancouver, which conducts both visual inspections and microscopic analyses of particulate matter when coal dust is believed to have been spread beyond the terminal's boundaries.
"Generally what the analysis shows is that it's mostly soil particles, like 90 per cent . . . there is a small percentage of coal particles," said Roy Robb, environmental regulation and enforcement division manager with Metro Vancouver.
Metro Vancouver discovered an excess of diesel particulate and ship emissions near Neptune in 2009.
"You can't say it's all due to them," Robb said. "In that location there was exceedance, in other areas there was not."
Unless responding to a complaint, inspections are fairly infrequent, according to Robb.
The port authority received approximately 375 emails and letters in support of Neptune's expansion and 640 letters expressing concerns, usually about environmental issues, according to PMV.
"More than 600 citizens wrote letters to the port raising concerns about the impacts of coal dust and diesel fumes on their health," said Will Horter, executive director of the Dogwood Initiative and an opponent of the expansion.
The coal-carrying cars are sprayed with sealant to minimize coal dust, according to Belsheim. The spray, designed to create a crust on top of the coal, is reapplied about halfway to the port.
In terms of air quality, Neptune already has the necessary safeguards in place to ensure safety, according to Jim Crandles, director of planning for PMV.
"All the measures that they have in place that deal with fugitive dust are appropriate," he said. "We're quite proud of them as a terminal operator and I have the utmost in confidence that they will continue to have that kind of relationship (with the community)."
When speaking to the District of North Vancouver Monday, PMV vice-president of social responsibility Duncan Wilson fielded questions about the environmental impact of exporting coal.
"We can only consider what is within the scope of our authority," Wilson responded. "We don't decide what commodities Canada trades."