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'75 explosion fears haunt Moodyville

Port ready to make decision on N. Van grain terminal expansion

RESIDENTS in Moodyville are worried for the safety of their neighbourhood on the eve of Port Metro Vancouver deciding if it will permit Richardson International to nearly double its grain storage and export capacity.

The fears are spawned by a 1975 grain dust explosion and fire on the site that sent a shockwave and burning debris raining down on the community.

"There were ambers dropping in on Ridgeway Annex school which is quite a way from Richardson. All the kids had to be taken out of school and evacuated, as did about 400 people in the immediate area around me. It was a pretty serious thing," said Don McDowell, an East First Street resident.

Since that time, there have been more than 500 grain elevator fires in North America, according to numbers researched by McDowell, and if Richardson gets the OK to build another 45-metre high grain silo to the east of its existing one, he says it will put neighbours at undue risk.

"Our concern is that by putting them on the east side of the facility, it's a dangerous thing to do because it's right on top of a residential area," he said. "We're only 400 feet from the actual Richardson terminal."

The best-case scenario for nearby residents, McDowell said, would be Richardson choosing to build new silos on the south side of the existing ones, though he doesn't expect them to change course, adding that because of PMV's federal jurisdiction, they can "do what the heck they want."

But the proposal for the project, as-is, is complete and a decision is imminent.

"Staff have completed the review and referred it to the executive for a decision and we're anticipating that decision to be made next week," said Sarah McPherson, PMV's manager of project communications, Friday.

PMV has heard repeated concerns from residents about the possibility of a repeat of the 1975 fatal fire and incorporated that into the many studies and assessments that form Richardson's application.

"Due to that particular concern . . . we have added an additional fire protection engineer review to our building permit process. In order to get yet another view on those plans - to give the city and the community confidence that, in addition to the code consultants and experts who do the building permit processes, there is this other layer of protection and assessment for them," McPherson said. "That's a very valid point."

The new silos, if approved, will be built to National Building Code and fire code standards, and all of the reports on risk, shade, air quality, noise, traffic and emergency planning are available through PMV or the City of North Vancouver, McPherson said.

Regardless of what PMV's executive decides, the federal body will not be putting its neighbours in danger, McPherson added.

"Unacceptable risk has to be addressed. I don't think anybody would be permitting a project that is unsafe or where those risks have been exceeded. I can't imaging that ever happening," she said. "Absolutely not. We cannot."

City council has requested that the project be done under the city's usual permitting process, however PMV has its own process and the city is included in it, each step of the way, McPherson said.

Neighbours are also concerned that a Richardson expansion would mean they will no longer be able to get fire insurance for their homes, or it will come at a premium.

But that's not likely to be the case, according Nigel Kent, an insurance lawyer and instructor at Capilano University. Because of the fiercely competitive nature of the insurance brokerage business, prices for such things rarely go up.

"My best guess is it'll probably make not a whit of difference to the availability of coverage or the price of coverage," he said.

Meanwhile, many in the community are still seething over the loss of views, lack of consultation, increase in air pollution and noise, and the menacing potential of high-voltage power lines running through the neighbourhood that will come with the Low Level Road expansion project and the Richardson project.

brichter@nsnews.com