Provincial News

Environmental groups launch legal challenge against B.C.'s Roberts Bank port project

By The Canadian Press

Published 12:34 PDT, Thu May 25, 2023

Five environmental groups have launched a combined legal challenge against the port expansion plan at Roberts Bank, south of Vancouver, that was approved by the federal government last month.

The coalition, which includes the David Suzuki Foundation, the Georgia Strait Alliance, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Committee, says in a statement that it has filed an application in Federal Court for judicial review of Terminal 2's approval.

It said the project, which involves using landfill to add a three-berth marine container terminal, would disrupt "critical habitat" for the roughly 70 endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.

The group, which is represented by environmental law organization Ecojustice, said such actions would contravene the Species at Risk Act, given the project's environmental impacts on the whales "cannot be fully mitigated."

In April, the federal government approved the project subject to 370 legally-binding conditions to protect local environments and species that may be impacted by construction and port operations.

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority - the project's proponent - said the expansion would increase its capacity by 50 per cent, but going without it would jeopardize $3 billion in added GDP due to bottlenecks and space constraints.

Alex Munro, a port authority spokesman, deferred comment on the legal challenge to the federal government, but said the port remains focused on advancing Terminal 2 "in a way that protects and enhances the environment, is reflective of Indigenous priorities, and considers the needs of local communities."

"Roberts Bank Terminal 2 is essential for Canada — with container trade on a long-term growth trajectory and west coast marine terminals almost at capacity," Munro said in a statement.

The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada said it is aware of the legal challenge, and the federal government is "confident that its decision-making for the project was appropriate and consistent with its legal obligations."

The environmental groups challenging Terminal 2 said a March 2020 report by an independent federal review panel found the new terminal would both reduce the availability of chinook salmon to whales and disrupt pods with increased underwater noise.

David Suzuki Foundation senior science and policy analyst Jeffery Young said the federal decision to approve Terminal 2 despite the findings of the panel was a key reason why groups are now challenging the process.

Additional conditions placed on Terminal 2 for its approval don't help, Young said.

"They imposed additional conditions on the project, but ultimately that part of the process isn't reviewable, or the panel that completed the long extensive review wouldn't have a chance to look at that information," Young said in an interview. 

"Ultimately, their conclusion showed that there wasn't mitigation that could alleviate these effects, so there's really no way that conditions like that could have prevented the harm from occurring."

Ecojustice staff lawyer Dyna Tuytel said her group handles judicial review challenges of government decisions regularly, and typical court timelines would indicate an oral hearing at the conclusion of the challenge could happen toward the end of this year.

The goal, Tuytel said, is to have the Terminal 2 decision overturned and sent back to the federal government.

– Chuck Chiang, The Canadian Press 

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