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Frustrating Our Industrial Residents – Mismanagement

Frustrating Our Industrial Residents Upon whom the City’s Financial Health Relies – Mismanagement:  The City of North Vancouver is the very lucky beneficiary of taxation income which arrives courtesy of our industrial residents. Many of those residents exist on Federal “Port” lands, and are here because of the natural harbour shoreline which forms the southern boarder of our community.

One of these industrial tenants is Neptune Terminals (“Neptune”). Let me first say that Neptune is not a perfect neighbour to have. A perfect neighbour might be one which gives to the City all the money it ever wanted or needed, and demands nothing in exchange, while at the same time poses no risk or other form of operational or environmental impact. What could be more perfect than that? However, the reality is that perfect industrial residents simply don’t exist.

On the other hand, Neptune has historically displayed an understanding that its operations do indeed have impact on the comfort and quality of our lives, and I believe they have taken many many steps to ensure those effects are minimized. Likewise, both Cargill and Richardson’s have displayed real concern for the well-being of their neighbours, and have taken many steps to mitigate the negative impacts of living next a major international grain terminal.

Neptune, currently our largest Industrial tenant, has been undergoing significant expansion of its operations, and spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. This expansion will facilitate growth to Neptune’s metallurgical coal thruput capacity, as well as investment to reduce the noise, the coal dust and all the other aspects of their operations which effect our community. In my opinion, Neptune is doing and saying all the right things.

Despite this fact, Neptune has been caught up in what I call “Port Wars”, principally in relation to both the Surrey Fraser Dock proposal to become a coal shipment terminal, and the ongoing operations at Delta Port shipping thermal coal mined in Montana, USA. I am informed that most if not all the Montana coal now being shipped by Delta Port, together with the coal wanting to be shipped through the newly proposed Fraser Surrey Coal terminal, was previously shipped through US Ports. When the Montana coal producers failed to implement coal dust mitigation methods, they frustrated the US port authorities  which were at that time accepting their coal products for shipment, and they were subsequently denied access to those Ports. Some of that coal, in search of a doorway to the Far East, has now made its way to BC Ports, and in so doing has displaced Canadian metallurgical coal previously passing through the Delta Port facility.

To maintain those Canadian coal-mining jobs, Neptune has expanded its capacity in order for that coal to have a doorway through which to pass on route to the Far East.

Those who oppose the US Coal movement through Surrey, wanting to stop the possible movement of this product through the newly proposed Fraser Surrey Coal Dock loading facilities, have organized and attacked the movement of coal through Canadian Ports generally, including the Neptune expansion. The Neptune coal shipping capacity expansion was long ago underway before the US coal issue arrived on the scene. To some degree, Neptune has been caught up in the larger issue involving the US coal shipments arriving from Montana, none of which passes through the Neptune facility. Despite this fact, the anti-coal lobby has attacked Neptune, as part of the overall anti-coal strategy.

In answer to this issue councillor Clark brought a Notice of Motion seeking to have the Port order a Health Impact Assessment (“HIA”) for the Neptune facility. The motion called for the following action:

17.    Port Expansion Projects in the City of North Vancouver –  File: 0400-40 PMV-01

            Submitted by: Councillor Clark

BE IT RESOLVED THAT City Council request Port Metro Vancouver conduct independent and comprehensive Environmental and Health Impact Assessments to fully investigate the potential effects of all current and future port expansion projects in the City, including but not limited to the Neptune and Richardson projects;

THAT this information be made public as soon as possible;

AND THAT our local MP, MLA, Vancouver Coastal Health, our local Medical Health Officer, the Provincial Health Officer, the Provincial Minister of Health, the Chief Medical Health Officer for Canada, the Minister of Health for Canada, Metro Vancouver, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities and Federation of Canadian Municipalities, be so advised.

This motion came before council on December 2nd 2013. I submitted a report to council in respect of the coal port expansion issue, and made a presentation on this subject during the Public Input Period. See Council Video Feed:

In my submission to council I did not oppose councillor Clark’s motion. I did however oppose passing the motion without first asking Neptune’s management to appear before council, explain the cause and need for expansion, as well as both the positive and negative impacts of the Neptune coal port expansion program. If Neptune’s answers were found to be unsatisfactory, then council could ask Neptune right then and there if they would conduct an HIA. If the issue had been broached in this manner, I believe Neptune, as a good and valued corporate neighbour, would have complied with the City’s request.

I was not the only person who thought this course of action to be prudent. The vice-president of the longshoreman’s union also appeared and spoke during the Public Input Period. See Council Video Feed:

Like myself, the vice-president thought the first move should be to ask Neptune management to come before council to explain the expansion programs. In addition to his support of my position, he made some very good points of his own. The longshoreman’s union is the representative for all aspect of the labour relations interaction between Port operators and the people who work at all Port facilities in the Lower Mainland, including Neptune Terminals. In this capacity, the union is the first entity to see the impacts of an unsafe work environment as the unionized longshoreman are the first in-line to suffer the consequences.

Driving this point home, the union’s vice-president made it clear that a high paying job which kills or injures Port workers through exposure to dangerous substances is not on. You can’t spend that hard-earned money unless you are healthy, and so worker environmental health and safety are at the very core of the union’s mission.

Council rejected both my plea, and the arguments of the longshoreman’s union vice-president, and passed councillor Clark’s motion unanimously.

The Port of Vancouver received the City’s motion and has subsequently rejected the City’s request, and has ordered that there will not be an HIA performed in relation to the Neptune Terminal coal port expansion project.

The significants of the tactical error made by the City does not appear to be well understood. Neptune lives on Federally controlled Port Canada lands. The Federal governments view is that what ever goes on on those Port lands requires no duty to consult with neighbouring municipalities. Indeed, they believe that if they began a process of consultation where matters of Port expansion were being considered, they may very well create a duty to consult by way of conduct, and so they oppose any action which would even appear to create such a duty.

On the other hand, tenants on Port Lands like Neptune simply want to get-along so that they may go-along, and to accomplish this objective they closely follow the instructions received from the Port. Had we asked Neptune to come without threat or agenda, had them explain their operations and growth programs, and asked them to do something, like perform an HIA, to confirm their expansion programs would not cause harm to  North Shore residents, we might very well have succeeded in having that HIA done.

Instead, we overplayed our hand, and lost the gamble. Now we have a solid wall wherein the Port has ordered that no HIA of the Neptune expansion project will be occur. Neptune is not in a position to ignore a clear and unambiguous instruction from its landlord, the Government of Canada. We overplayed our hand, we bluffed, and we lost.

As was made very clear by Ms. Isabel Gordon during her final presentation to council on February 24th 2014, the capital expansion associated with the Neptune Coal terminal is the single largest reason that the City was able to approve a “0%” tax increase for the 2014 budget period. Were it not for Neptune, the City would have had to increase taxes or cut services. The lesson, “..do not bite the hand that feeds you…”, and don’t go off half-cocked before you have fully thought through what it is you really want, and how best to achieve that objective. Poking your single largest industrial resident in the eye is never a good course of action.

IT  IS  MY  POSITION  THAT our industrial residents, situated both on and off Port lands, represent a group of significant and valued taxpayers upon whom the City of North Vancouver has, in one fashion or another, always been partially dependent. To this end:

  1. I will not support the pursuit of initiatives, tactics or strategies involving intergovernmental policy or Port tenant legal matters without first asking the affected residents or entities to appear before council, to fully and better explain their businesses and the health issues emanating from their existing or proposed facilities, and the resulting potential impacts to City residents and City operations; and
  2. I will support working closely with the Port and Port industrial tenants to ensure that when matters such as the objection to increased bulk commodity thruput and facility development issues arise, the City embarks on well thought out plans which will succeed in achieving the City’s objective of maintaining and improving the health and safety of our community, while at the same time ensuring that we maintain a strong and positive bond with our industrial residents. Their success is our success, and this years “0%” tax increase drives that fact home.

When I find myself in a position to apply these policies and principals as setout above, they will guide my decision-making.

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