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Fraser River shipping could bloom without Massey Tunnel

Fraser Surrey Docks is located on the east bank of the Fraser River in North Delta, between the Alex Fraser and Pattullo Bridges. - Port Metro Vancouver
Fraser Surrey Docks is located on the east bank of the Fraser River in North Delta, between the Alex Fraser and Pattullo Bridges.
— image credit: Port Metro Vancouver

Eliminating the Massey Tunnel would open up the Fraser River to expanded shipping that could in some cases help take truck traffic off the roads.

Fraser Surrey Docks CEO Jeff Scott lists that as one of the benefits that would come with a new Deas Island bridge promised by the province, provided the tunnel is removed and the channel is dredged.

"I think it creates opportunities for growth and expansion up and down the Fraser River that could result in thousands of jobs and significant economic benefit," Scott said.

Ships carrying more containers are among those that could sail upstream if the channel is deepened to allow vessels loaded to a draft of 13.5 metres, instead of the limit of 11.5 metres now.

That wouldn't necessarily mean larger ships sailing on the river.

Scott said Panamax-size vessels – the same size as the oil tankers that load at Kinder Morgan's terminal on Burrard Inlet – already sail up to Fraser Surrey Docks, but they can't be fully loaded because of the channel depth at the tunnel.

"You'll see the same ships, we could just load larger volume on them," he predicted.

That's significant because it's uneconomic right now for shippers to essentially pay twice to use two ships, along with the cost of loading them, when they could instead send out one fully loaded from a different terminal.

"It's economies of scale," Scott said. "If they have to pay twice they go somewhere else where they only have to pay once to load a vessel up."

Scott uses the example of the Interfor sawmill that's adjacent to Fraser Surrey Docks.

It can't fully load lumber on a ship at Fraser Surrey Docks so it instead trucks all that lumber across town to Burrard Inlet, where a large ship can be filled to capacity with Interfor lumber, the same as the forest company's competitors do.

"You have all that impact on the community and roads of trucking that to Vancouver, just to accommodate a deeper draft vessel," he said.

Scott said there might actually be fewer ships moving on the river, but more fully loaded.

The terminal also hopes to drum up more shipping business with more efficient, heavily laden vessels.

Scott lists wheat, grains and specialty crops, as well as potash and forest products, as the likeliest cargo types Fraser Surrey Docks might attract.

The terminal is also in the midst of a contentious proposal to open a new coal-handling facility that would transfer coal from trains onto barges and send it to Texada Island for reloading to larger ships.

Asked if Fraser Surrey Docks could load ocean-going coal ships after the tunnel is gone, rather than barging first to Texada, Scott said he's focused on proceeding with the coal terminal as it's now proposed.

Asked if an alternate oil export terminal on the river for Kinder Morgan's pipeline might be another possibility, Scott said he's heard no talk of that.

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