Port Authority misrepresents public comments on coal export proposal: VTACC

Voters Taking Action on Climate Change (VTACC) alleges that Vancouver Fraser Port Authority is misrepresenting letters from the public expressing concerns over increased coal exports.

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority has approved a plan to increase the coal exports shipped from the Neptune Bulk Terminals from 8.5 to 18.5 million tonnes. It received over 640 letters and emails expressing concern over the increase versus 375 emails and letters in favour, but approved the expansion. 

In a January memorandum on the rationale for approval of the Neptune Bulk Terminals' proposal, the Port noted the following about the public's letters:

“In addition to correspondence regarding Neptune, Port Metro Vancouver received approximately 375 emails and letters expressing general support for trading coal. Port Metro Vancouver also received more than 640 emails and letters (with the vast majority of those being form letters) expressing general concerns about the possible broader environmental and health impacts of coal.”

VTACC obtained copies of the public comments received by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority in response to their review of two applications to increase coal exports from Metro Vancouver. A review of the files --- one containing comments in favour of coal exports and one containing comments opposed -- gives a very different picture of the public's views. 

Just 378 of 640 comments opposed to coal exports were from one of five  different "form letters."

That's just 59 per cent: hardly the "vast majority" of comments. 

What's more, 360 comments (96 per cent) in support of the coal exports were exactly identical and sent to the Port Authority on one single day: January 16, 2013.  

Why did the Port Authority use a double standard when claiming that the majority opposing letters were "form letters", making no mention that over 90 per cent the letters in support of increased coal exports were also form letters? 

"If the Port Authority wants to restore public confidence and meet its goal of being a good neighbour to Metro Vancouver communities, it should hit rewind on both the Neptune and Fraser Surrey Docks coal export approval processes and invite broad public participation in these decisions," said VTACC Director Kevin Washbrook.

Other media have picked up on the lack of transperent public discourse involved in the decision to approve the coal expansion project in North Vancouver. Pete McMartin in The Vancouver Sun notes that when the call for public input ended this week on the creation of a coal port at Cherry Point, Washington, the number of letters, emails and web-based submissions were estimated to be over 100,000 in number, with seven public meetings drawing over 9,000 people. Every single one of the web-based submissions is posted for public viewing on the proposal's environmental impact site. The example is a stark contrast to what is happening in Vancouver. 
VTACC has asked West Coast Environmental Law to conduct a review of the Port Authority's decision making process and the Neptune Bulk Terminals coal export approval in order to determine if there is any basis for a legal challenge of the decision. VTACC has also initiated a series of federal Access to Information Requests in order to review all Port Authority communications regarding the Neptune decision and the still to be decided Fraser Surrey Docks coal export application.

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