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Will the Roberts Bank 2 Terminal Project be Approved?

The public comment period for the Roberts Bank 2 Terminal Project will end by tomorrow, March 15, 2022. 

An environmental assessment for the Roberts Bank 2 Terminal Project is currently being conducted by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada. In line with this, the floor has been opened for the general public to share their insights on the additional information given by the institution behind the project.

More information was provided regarding the potential effects that implementation of the Roberts Bank 2 Terminal Project could have on various aspects. This includes the impact on fish, at-risk species, land use, and the health of the population residing nearby.

At the same time, the general public can also leave their comments on the draft of the potential environmental assessment conditions for the project that the agency has come up with as of late. Should the project receive the go signal for implementation, stakeholders are bound by the terms stipulated in the document. 

Because of this, everyone is encouraged to participate in the assessment of the Roberts Bank 2 Terminal Project. 

What is the Roberts Bank 2 Terminal Project?

The Roberts Bank 2 Terminal Project was proposed by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. It is a three-berth marine container terminal that will be constructed at the Roberts Bank in Delta, British Columbia. Specifically, the terminal will be next to the Deltaport and Westshore Terminals, which have already been established decades ago. 

The construction of a new terminal will no doubt result in environmental effects. In order to decrease the gravity of such a situation, the terminal will be positioned in deep, subtidal waters. Apart from that, it will be constructed at a distance of 5.5 kilometers away from the shore. Doing so will decrease direct contact with sensitive habitats that are often found closer to the shore. 

Duncan Wilson, the Vice President of Environment and External Affairs of the Port Authority, said that “we’ve designed the terminal in a way that minimizes the impact on fish and fish habitat and we’ll construct and operate the terminal in a way that minimizes any impact or eliminates in most cases impact on southern resident killer whales.”

Roberts Bank 2 Terminal
The three main components of the project are: a three-berth marine container terminal, a widened causeway to the mainland, and an expanded tug basin.

The terminal will also be 1,300 meters long and 700 meters wide. Because of this, there will be enough space to accommodate three ships, a container storage yard, and a rail intermodal yard.   

Furthermore, the financial resources needed to construct the terminal will not be obtained from taxes. Rather, it will be supported by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority itself, together with private investments. The value of the project is estimated to be over $2 billion.

How Will the Roberts Bank 2 Terminal Benefit the Country?

Should the project proceed, 2.4 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of container capacity per year would be added to the Roberts Bank. This will benefit Canadian exporters, businesses, and consumers since it will provide more resources for global trade. 

In the next few years, the current capacity of Canada’s west coast is expected to be insufficient to meet the growth in trade between the country and Asia. This unfortunate situation could come into effect as early as 2025. However, the demand for the trade of goods that are shipped in containers will not abate any time soon. By 2030, container traffic is estimated to be 6.5 million TEUs. This is around two times more than the 3.5 million TEUs recorded in 2014.  

Port congestion would not just be a seasonal occurrence. Instead, it would be the everyday reality of the country. “Some of the supply chain congestion the country is experiencing right now is exactly what we’re going to start to experience if Terminal 2 isn’t delivered,” Wilson said.  

Currently, China and Japan are Canada’s second and fourth largest trading partners, respectively. 

Because of this, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority finds it in the best interest of everyone to increase the capacity of the country through the construction of the Roberts Bank 2 Terminal. This will enable the supply side of Canada to grow alongside demand.

If the terminal were not to be built, the country’s importers and exporters would look elsewhere to meet their demands. In particular, it would require them to head to ports located on the west coast of the USA. Traversing this distance will increase the cost of transportation. As an effect, the prices of goods could increase, which would be an added burden on consumers.

Initiation of the construction and, later on, maintenance of the terminal will also create more job opportunities for citizens. 18,000 jobs will be made available in a span of six years should the terminal be constructed. Additionally, there will be 17,300 employees needed to support the annual operation of the terminal.  

Moreover, the government could obtain around $631 million in taxes once the terminal is operating. It could also contribute $3.0 billion to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) every year. 

Wilson added, “That basically means jobs and opportunity lost to the United States and an impact on our sovereignty in terms of our ability to trade with the Asia Pacific region.”

The Environmental Assessment Process Started in 2013

The federal environmental review of the Roberts Bank 2 Terminal project has been on-going for nearly a decade. Under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the minister of the environment and climate change appointed an independent review panel to lead this pursuit in 2016.

By August of 2019, the review phase of the assessment was completed. Then, the report was passed on to the minister of environment and climate change in March 2020. 

The findings of the independent panel stated that the terminal could provide markets and local communities in Canada with opportunities for business and employment. But it also comes with negative consequences for marine biodiversity, such as the southern resident killer whales and chinook salmon. This is of concern because the southern resident killer whales are an endangered species, with only 74 of them in the wild. 

Five months later, in August 2020, the federal government requested more information from the Port Authority regarding the probable environmental effects of the project.  

To address these concerns, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority consulted with various stakeholders, such as 46 Indigenous groups, federal agencies, and experts in the field. After more than a year of preparations and revisions, the institution was finally able to submit their response. They adjusted the proposal in order to reduce the negative environmental consequences assessed by the panel.

Upon receipt, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada opened a public comment period in December 2021. This was supposed to last until February 13, 2022, but was extended for a month. It will only be open until tomorrow.

If the federal government approves the Roberts Bank 2 Terminal Project, the institution can proceed with obtaining the necessary permits to start the construction of the site. It will take around six years for it to be completed. By the first few years of 2030, it could start operating so that the country can reap the benefits that the project claims to provide.

Seeking Other Alternatives

A review panel has also been assigned to evaluate an alternative to the construction of the Roberts Bank 2 Terminal. Instead of building a new terminal from the ground up, the capacity of the current Deltaport by Global Container Terminals could be increased. 

Global Container Terminals is planning to start a $1.6 billion project for the construction of a fourth berth for ships and the extension of its rail yard. In comparison to the Roberts Bank 2 Terminal, this expansion will result in a smaller footprint. The fourth berth will only produce one-third of the footprint of the proposed new terminal. At the same time, there will be no need for the port to take up more space in the ocean.

However, the proposed fourth berth will similarly be positioned in the protected habitat of the southern resident killer whales. This was taken into consideration by the company. As such, they have included different measures in order to reduce the impact on marine biodiversity. 

Ken Ashley, Director of the Rivers Institute at the B.C. Institute of Technology (BCIT), said that the federal government should either reject or delay the decision on the approval of the Roberts Bank 2 Terminal Project. George V. Harvie, Mayor of Delta City, similarly expressed this concern to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month.  

The approving authorities should weigh the consequences of both proposals against each other. By doing so, they can proceed with the project that will be least disruptive to the environment but beneficial to the country all the same.



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