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Coal-train crusaders pick up steam

Communities and Coal organizers say they are finding increasing numbers of local residents with concerns about perceived hazards of increased thermal-coal train traffic.   - File photo
Communities and Coal organizers say they are finding increasing numbers of local residents with concerns about perceived hazards of increased thermal-coal train traffic.
— image credit: File photo

Communities and Coal is gaining momentum in its opposition to the proposed Direct Coal Transfer Facility at Fraser Surrey Docks.

That’s the word from Ocean Park resident Paula Williams, co-organizer of the grassroots network of South Surrey residents, who said it managed to gain 7,600 signatures for its petition in its first 18 days of canvassing.

“It’s picking up,” she said. “People are waking up. I don’t think they realized before what this was all about.”

The group’s campaign about perceived health and quality-of-life impacts from thermal-coal dust from trains coming from the U.S. –  set to double if the new transfer facility is approved by Port Metro Vancouver – started with a town-hall meeting in Ocean Park six weeks ago.

After residents heard, and heeded, warnings from guest speakers Eoin Madden of the Wilderness Committee and Dr. Frank James of a group of physicians in Washington State – instrumental in blocking a similar coal-transfer facility there – the group was formalized, Williams said.

Advocates of the transfer facility – including the Surrey Board of Trade – maintain it will be a huge benefit to the economy, that topping coatings that will be applied to the cargo reduce dust by 85 per cent,  and that a sealed water-spraying system at the planned facility will significantly reduce dust emissions there.

Williams said she recognizes that efforts will be made to mitigate coal dust, but said Communities and Coal members fear it won’t be enough to outweigh adverse effects.

“We’ve had some negative feedback, calling people from South Surrey NIMBYs,” Williams acknowledged. “We’re not trying to ship this off to some other place – we don’t want it for anyone. We’re questioning what this is and what it will do, taking a look at things that haven’t been looked at for a long time.”

The signatures collected to this point –including those gathered at the Spirit of the Sea Festival, the Tsawwassen Sun Festival, White Rock Farmers’ Market and Ocean Park Farmers’ Market – indicate there is no consensus on the issue, she said.

And Williams said that rather than dividing communities, the campaign is bringing them closer to like-minded groups and helping spark the creation of others in Surrey, Delta and New Westminster.

“This thing is starting to spread,” she said, adding Communities and Coal’s most recent meeting in Ocean Park on Aug. 6 drew community leaders from such areas as Surrey’s Panorama Ridge and New Westminster.

“They’re going to have their own town-hall meetings and use the Communities and Coal name and campaign with our petition and replicate what we have done.”

Williams said Communities and Coal is prepared to listen to information from the industrial side of the argument.

“What we’re saying is let’s get all the information out there,” she said.

“If Port Metro Vancouver and Fraser Surrey Docks want to, they can have a public hearing and clear the air about it.”

Williams said Communities and Coal is not against industry, or all coal shipments – its focus is on US thermal coal that will be shipped from B.C. to Asia.

She noted, for instance that a woman from North Vancouver who spoke at the most recent meeting was discussing the impacts of metallurgical coal from the Neptune Terminals, including plummeting property values in nearby areas on the North Shore.

“We’re not fighting metallurgical coal, or trying to stop all coal shipments, although her comments about the impacts from being so close to a terminal are very interesting.”

 

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