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Metro Vancouver’s environment and parks committee passes motion to oppose new coal terminal at Fraser Surrey docks

The opposition is growing tonight to the proposal to build a new coal terminal along the FraserRiver near New Westminster.

If that project gets approved it would make Metro Vancouver the biggest coal port in North America.

But the mayors of many municipalities on the Lower Mainland have already raised a red flag, wondering about a large increase in coal dust and what it will do to local air quality.

And today the Environment and Parks committee of Metro Vancouver passed a motion expressing its outright opposition.

The number of trains shipping coal through the Lower Mainland is increasing, and if new coal facilities in North Vancouver and Fraser Surrey docks are approved, as many as four to eight million tones of coal could be shipped out of Greater Vancouver each year.

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Today, Metro Vancouver’s environment and parks committee expressed concern about the increased coal shipments and their potential effects on air quality, so they voted by a 6-5 margin to push for a say in the expansion.

“The port is not looking out for the public’s interest on this issue. They have not done an adequate job of consulting,” says Kevin Washbrook with Voters Taking Action on Climate Change. “We are aware of a lot of people in the local communities and throughout the region, who are very concerned that these are huge decisions and you should not make them until you have talked to the public.”

There is mounting concern about health and air quality.

Those living in Delta have wondered for years whether or not the black dust they commonly find in and around their homes is from the nearby coal port.

“There is something out there,” says Independent MLA for South Delta Vicki Huntington. “If it is on our patios, our furniture, our cars and our gardens, then it is in our lungs. They have to start doing the health studies.”

Photos showing dust swirling around Delta’s coal port has raised alarm bells, and similar concerns have been raised in places like White Rock, Sparwood and Fernie, where trains heaped with coal pass through.

So far, anyone looking for answers has been disappointed.

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“It has created a black dead zone around Deltaport, where if you speak to the crab fishermen that used to fish out there… they were not anywhere near the port, the crabs when they are open – are black inside,” says Huntington. “So you can’t say there is not an environmental problem, and yet it is not monitored being monitored, it is not being spoken about.”

Earlier this year, chief medical health officers from Vancouver and Fraser Health sent a letter asking for a say in the potential coal port expansion.

Metro Vancouver’s motion today means concern is growing in the Lower Mainland, and critics say an independent study is required to determine what is in the air.

“Maybe we should say no more expansion until you can prove to us that it isn’t harmful, because there is a real scientific gap in that knowledge,” says Huntington.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the vote by Metro Vancouver’s environment and parks committee was unanimous.