Waterfront politics in a snake-year

WITH anti-big growth resentment steaming, it's no surprise among North Vancouver community association members that there's talk of cleaning out the stables.

There's discussion about who'll be stepping up to challenge the developer-poodles on councils in both North Vancouver municipalities.

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But residents won't want to drop their vigilance regarding what's underway along the waterfront. A slew of major development proposals are bubbling from the edge of Squamish Nation territory right through to Cates Park. Could the Year of the Water Snake ahead be more synchronistically timed?

In East Seymour, the old boat-yard adjacent to Cates Park is being sized-up for four-storey condo redevelopment. That'll dent the lazy charm of commuting along Dollarton Highway.

Right across the inlet, the $4.1 billion Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline proposal promises to bring even more heavy Alberta oil sludge, that's diluted bitumen or "dilbit," to Burnaby's Westridge Terminal. But it gets bigger: two weeks ago, Houston, Texas-based Kinder Morgan announced that it's increasing the capacity of its proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline project from 750,000 barrels to 890,000 per day. Current levels are about 350,000 daily.

Opponents fear that Chinese government pressure and Alberta's Big Oil lobby will inevitably push massive Aframax tanker traffic to haul more than one million barrels per day through sensitive Second Narrows, Vancouver's Inner Harbour and English Bay waters.

That's a whacking leap in tanker traffic from about six to nearly 40 super-big boys a month. With Goldman-Sachs, the folks who helped bring the U.S. economy to its knees, holding director seats on the board of Kinder Morgan, as well as a 19 per cent ownership stake, this outfit knows all about bumping the numbers.

Adding to the scenario are Prime Minister Harper's convenient omnibus budget bills, C38 and C45 - instrumental in what Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson calls an "abrupt weakening of the federal environmental review process."

Let's hope those big vessels have better braking systems than the Exxon Valdes did in Alaska. They'll need to dodge increased marine traffic nearby from the proposed expansion in coal hauling at Neptune Terminals on the North Vancouver waterfront. China's and her East Asian neighbours' appetite for metallurgical coal saw Port Metro Vancouver approve a doubling of coal-shipping traffic at Neptune Terminals. Apart from marine traffic management issues, this potential development also has Lower Mainland health officials concerned. Carbon emissions, noise pollution and overall air quality affect livability in nearby community areas.

The larger issue is coal's potential impact on Lower Mainland eco-systems, as well as its contribution to global warming. Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health authorities had requested input on the expansion proposal decisions.

Farther west, residential redevelopment is taking over the Harbourside site once regarded as a City of North Vancouver business and commercial development area south of the Northshore Auto Mall.

The planning promised here is a better mixed-use area. Now, people will be living where businesses were once projected. Translated, that means expensive ground-floor commercial space and three to seven storeys of residential use above. Five buildings are slated for residential use only, with one earmarked for seniors' or affordable rental housing. How about something for special-needs folks who really need affordability? There's still a nine storey hotel on the books for the foot of Fell Avenue, presumably the local watering-hole. The details are worth checking out on the city's website. A town hall meeting regarding this development proposal is slated for February.

Our North Shore waterfront is a microcosm of what's taking place on a larger scale along the entire Pacific coast from Prince Rupert clear down to the California border.

Over in Delta there's a $10-billion Terminal 2 expansion proposal at Roberts Bank. Farther north, other energy-related projects include the wildly unpopular $5.5 billion Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines proposal for the Kitimat area, and the Liquid Natural Gas facility also proposed for Kitimat. Recently approved for a 20-year export licence by Ottawa, the latter has Premier Christy Clark giddy with optimism. She'll need it come election time.

Meanwhile, south of the border five more large, new coal terminals are proposed for Washington and Oregon. The biggest, a $600-million installation at Cherry Point halfway between Blaine and Bellingham, is a short spit from marine traffic at Robert's Bank. These U.S. terminals would ship coal from Montana and Wyoming and turnouts at public meetings addressing Cherry Point have drawn tremendous crowds.

China is the main destination for all this fossil fuel. That country is starting to look bigger than Godzilla, and as the people of crucified Tibet know too well, it doesn't hesitate to act that way either. That's who our kids will be dealing with: that's the Pacific future we're helping lead them into.

Cumulatively, the current tsunami of energy-related development proposals promise a seismic upheaval in tanker traffic along our iconic shorelines. We're told to relax, there won't be accidents. How would serious Vegas gamblers back the odds though, when only one crap-out spells eco-holocaust?

Premier Clark's B.C. Liberals don't offer much decision-making reassurance. They've only spent $64 million precious taxpayer dollars on advertising this past two years to convince us what a great job they're doing - $15 million on their latest television spots shortly before the coming election. Couldn't we have used this in health care, allowing physicians to make more home visits to the elderly, on helping the mentally ill, or a dozen other urgent items? Anyone recall local MLAs Naomi Yamamoto, Jane Thornthwaite, Ralph Sultan or Joan McIntyre raising a peep in protest at this profligate waste of public cash?

The Year of the Water Snake begins Feb. 10, but the transformations it brings could start soon after the May election. Are people here brave enough to shed an old skin that's starting to feel lousy?


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