Jun 24 2011
Pipeline Protest

Tyler Garnham photo

APOR members (clockwise form top left) Judy Williams, Jim Ronback, Carol Day and Scott Carswell make known their opposition to the proposed jet fuel pipeline and tank farm on the banks of the South Arm of the Fraser River.

By Philip Raphael

Standing on the banks of the South Arm of the Fraser River on a recent, rare sunny spring afternoon, Ladner's Jim Ronback looks out over the waters from Deas Island Park and doesn't like what the future may bring.

The retired engineer and Tsawwassen resident is far from comfortable with the possibility of seeing barges or even 950-foot-long tankers loaded with jet fuel docking across the water at an offloading facility and fuel tank farm in southeast Richmond.

It's part of a plan the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation (VAFFC) is proposing to meet demands for fuelling up current and increased air traffic through Vancouver International Airport (YVR).

A pipeline from the facility would then channel fuel across Richmond to the airport on Sea Island.


No NIMBYs here

"I know they need the jet fuel and we're not against the aircraft at YVR, it's the choice of how to transport the fuel that really is a major concern," said Ronback who along with others have joined VAPOR (Vancouver Airport Pipeline Opposition for Richmond). "And sending it up the South Arm of the Fraser River is a very poor decision."

Safety and possible negative effects on the surrounding environment are VAPOR's chief concerns.

"If there is any major jet fuel spill, which is toxic and flammable, it can reach the marshes and become a major ecological disaster," Ronback said.

Fellow VAPOR member Otto Langer, who worked for federal fisheries and environment departments for 32 years as a habitat protection and water quality biologist and manager, said the proposal is fraught with dangers to the environment.

"We're not opposed to the airport and airplanes having jet fuel. We're just opposed to coming up with the most ridiculous option possible which is bringing up giant, 80,000-ton Panamax type tankers right into the Fraser River," Langer said. "It's just foolhardy to promote that option."

Langer added the Fraser River is a significant salmon bearing channel and a spill of any magnitude could have severe consequences to the species, and the fishing industry.

"If you have a large (salmon) fishery like we did last year, when you have a spill you would have to shut down the whole fishery and fishermen could lose millions of dollars.

"You can also have to a billion small fry and juvenile salmon coming downstream. The Chinook and the Chum salmon rear in the estuary for up to two months. It's a nursery ground and the last place you'd want a spill."

Langer said he doesn't buy into the studies conducted by the VAFFC—which represents many of the domestic and international air carriers serving YVR—that much of any spilled jet fuel would evaporate in the first 48 hours or be flushed out to open water by the river.

"First of all you don't bring in any fuel into an estuary of global significance. And why would we when have been trying to keep these types of materials out the river for the last 50 years? Why would we now, in an enlightened era, bring that fuel here?"

VAFFC's proposed Marine Terminal

Langer said jet fuel is highly toxic due to the number of additives it contains, in part to prevent metal corrosion.

"Who wants that transported and transferred in the estuary and stored on the banks. The airport people say it will be gone in 48 hours, but if you spill it in very cold water, which it is eight months of the year, it doesn't evaporate quite as quickly.

"They're basically saying let the river grin and bear it for 48 hours until it dissipates," Langer added. "Well, that's like you or I being told don't worry about air in a room or cyanide in a room. It will be only there for an hour, or just a few minutes. But when it's there it's not going to do much for your health."

There's also the possibility a fuel spill could spread with the tides as far up river as Annacis Island, Langer said.

"It's quite possible it can get across the river with tides reversing," Langer said. "The currents are not just up and downstream. And with the winds it can get over to the extremely valuable series of islands on the Ladner side which are refuge areas."

Aside from the environmental concerns, property owners on the Richmond side of the river are also concerned about their health and homes.


Property concerns

Not living far from the proposed tank farm is Richmond resident and VAPOR member Scott Carswell who bought a condo on the banks of the South Arm at the Waterstone Pier development five years ago.

He's worried about the health concerns created by fuel tankers tied up along the waterfront and a tank farm about the equivalent of three football fields from his home.

Before he bought his one-bedroom unit he was told there was a possibility the land adjacent to his development could be used to offload sand and gravel from barges, not fuel.

Now he feels the value of his property may have been negatively affected as a result of the proposed pipeline plan.


Alternative routes

With the proposed pipeline project in the midst of a 120-day delay as it undergoes a review by B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office, VAPOR's members are calling for alternative routes to be seriously considered.

Ronback and Langer said their preferred route is to transfer jet fuel directly from the refinery at Cherry Point in Birch Bay, Washington to YVR.

The airport already receives the majority of its fuel—about 60 per cent—from that source via barges feeding a 40-year-old pipeline extending from the Chevron refinery near Burrard Inlet.

A pipeline-only option is much safer than bringing in tankers to the South Arm or using a fleet of trucks to haul fuel along the highways, which is done now to meet demands, Langer and Ronback said. They also claim it's cheaper.

Langer said he estimates that option is about half the $80 to $100 million cost of the proposed marine terminal and pipeline.

"They (Cherry Point) have a giant marine dock there that can accept any sized tanker in the world because they bring in Alaska crude oil in there," Langer said. "And if the consortium (VAFFC) wants to bring in fuel from Singapore, they can bring it to that site and pipe it directly to the airport. And that facility is not in the middle of an estuary. It's an open ocean type of port facility.

"There's no doubt in my mind when you look at the Canadian Transportation Safety Board accidents on trains, tankers and pipelines, pipelines are much safer when they are maintained and built properly," he added.

"The thing that bothers me the most is why didn't they pick a safer and less expensive route by making a pipeline all the way down Highway 99 to the border and to Cherry Point," Ronback said.

He's convinced the motivation to choose the South Arm option is financial.

"If they (VAFCC) can pick and choose the sources of jet fuel and buy it on the spot market, they might get it cheap from, say, Singapore. So you'll have a big tanker crossing the Pacific, with all of those perils, and then having to come up here and pushed by tug boats."

As for where a pipeline will run underground across Richmond, Langer said he supports a route that follows Highway 99.

"I support the alignment down the freeway, but don't stop at the (George Massey) tunnel, go all the way to the ARCO (now BP refinery at Cherry Point) refinery and we'll all be happy and it's all win-win."

The VAFCC has made assurances it will have state-of-the art measures to clean up any spills if they occur.

But that's cold comfort for Ronback and VAPOR.

"You don't want to spill in the first place," Ronback said. "After the horse has got out the barn door you try to close it?"

This is the second of a two-part series on the VAFCC's proposed pipeline project. Part one appeared in the Leader's June 17, 2011 edition and is available online at southdeltaleader.com.

More information about the pipeline project is available at vancouverairportfuel.ca. And an on-line petition against the project can be seen at: vaporbc.com.

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