RESIDENTS who live near Richardson International's grain handling terminal on the North Vancouver waterfront say the company's proposal to build a new 150-feet-high grain storage facility right in front of them is destroying their neighbourhood.
"Our neighbourhood is devastated," said Michael Binkley, an artist who works out of his home studio and has lived on East First Street for 26 years.
Binkley said since neighbours found out about the proposal for the $120-million grain silo last month, one family has put their house up for sale and "half the neighbourhood is considering doing that."
Neighbours say they're concerned about the loss of their views, increased noise from both construction, grain elevator operation and railcars and air pollution from the silos.
Richardson submitted plans to Port Metro Vancouver in August for the expansion of its grain-handling terminal, which would increase its annual handling capacity to five million tonnes per year from existing volumes of three million tonnes per year.
The project would involve construction of a new 80,000-tonne concrete grain storage silo on the east side of Richardson's waterfront terminal.
The expansion proposal is being put forward as worldwide shortages have pushed up the demand for Canadian wheat and boosted grain prices.
If approved, construction of the 55-metre tall storage facility and related works is expected to take about two years.
Rail car traffic will double from 150 cars per year to 300 cars annually.
"Anybody with half a brain understands 300 rail cars per day is going to be twice as noisy as 150," said Binkley.
Brian Lydall lives across the street from the proposed expansion and is also unhappy about the plans.
"This street is badly affected," he said. "It's just going to be an eyesore for North Vancouver."
Lydall, who has lived in his home at 528 East First for 16 years, said if the project goes ahead "the view will be terrible."
But he said noise and pollution are other worries. When Richardson is operating, "There's a constant white noise here," he said. "There's lots of dust." If the facility expands, "there's no reason any of that shouldn't be increasing," he said.
Marlene Goodbrand and her husband bought their house across from the proposed new silo at 535 East First St. as a retirement home last spring for about $1 million.
The view was a key factor in their decision, said Goodbrand. She said they "absolutely would not have bought" their house if they'd known about the plans.
Goodbrand said her Realtor asked if Richardson had any plans to expand before they completed the purchase and was told they didn't.
When she and her husband heard about the proposal last month "we were devastated and sick," she said.
Goodbrand said if the proposal goes ahead, the view from her living room will be a wall of grain silos. Goodbrand added she's asked about receiving compensation or getting a buyout from the company if the plan goes ahead, but was told no.
"They're painting it beige," she said of the proposed silo. "That was their mitigation for the loss of view."
Goodbrand said she feels the neighbourhood was deceived by both Richardson and Port Metro Vancouver who didn't mention the possible expansion of the silo when the port asked the City of North Vancouver to approve the Low Level Road expansion project. Politicians voted to approve that in June.
Goodbrand isn't the only one who feels that way. "We feel we've been deceived and lied to," said Binkley. "We've been treated poorly by Port Metro Vancouver."
Binkley said a project the size of the Richardson proposal wasn't dreamed up in two months and maintains both the company and Port Metro Vancouver kept the plans hidden from residents until the Low Level Road was approved.
Tracey Shelton, spokeswoman for Richardson, said the company's board first gave the go-ahead to look into the project in December 2011. Since then, a team of consultants has spent "many months" looking at possible designs "and putting the numbers together to decide if it was even feasible cost-wise," she said.
Shelton said the company "might have had some informal discussions just about the process" with the port prior to Richardson submitting its application, but added "we did not have any firm decision that we were going to go ahead with this."
Patricia MacNeil, spokeswoman for Port Metro Vancouver on the project, said the port told residents during the Low Level Road discussions that "we fully expected trade activity to grow."
MacNeil said the port didn't mention the Richardson plan specifically because "until a project is submitted to us . . . we are not in a position to speculate on a project. We didn't have any of the details at the time."
Some of the neighbours have questioned why Richardson can't build its additional storage out over the water so it wouldn't obscure their views.
But Shelton said that is a non-starter. "It's an entirely different project," she said. "It's not something we are proposing."
Shelton said it's important to recognize the wider benefits of the project to the North Shore, including 40 to 50 permanent jobs and more taxes for the city as well as spending on upgrades and maintenance.
Meanwhile, residents plan to take their concerns to the City of North Vancouver Monday night.
But neighbours said they know the city can only voice concerns to Port Metro Vancouver, which has the final say on the project.
"Big corporations and government," said Lydall. "They don't listen to the little guy."