Endangered orcas could be threatened by proposed B.C. container terminal, review panel says
A newborn southern resident orca calf is seen swimming alongside its mother. (Source: DFO / John Forde and Jennifer Steven, Tofino Whale Centre)
VANCOUVER -- A federally appointed panel has found the development of a new shipping container terminal south of Vancouver would result in “significant adverse” effects on endangered southern resident killer whales.
In its 627-page report, released Monday, the environmental assessment panel points to the negative impacts of marine shipping associated with the proposed terminal at Roberts Bank in Delta, B.C.
They include underwater noise, potential ship strikes, and the reduced availability of chinook salmon, the endangered orcas' primary prey.
The report says some of the largest salmon runs in the world migrate through the Roberts Bank area, and the project would also adversely affect nearby wetlands, fish habitat and migratory birds.
The new three-berth terminal proposed by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority would be built adjacent to the Deltaport and Westshore terminals and Tsawwassen First Nation land, providing capacity for an additional 2.4 million shipping containers each year.
If Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson determines the environmental effects are significant, he'll refer the decision to cabinet to determine whether those effects are justified.
Among the panel's 71 recommendations is the development of a marine mammal management plan and the creation of an Indigenous advisory committee for the project.
The plan would include the creation of buffer zones where construction activities would need to be stopped or reduced if certain marine mammals entered the area.
“The Panel recognizes that several participants have highlighted that the Salish Sea is already highly noisy and there should be, at a minimum, no future net gain in underwater noise,” the report says.
In addition to negatively affecting a variety of species, the panel concluded the project would likely result in “significant adverse” effects on the use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by at least four nearby First Nations.
Tsawwassen First Nation, a participant in the review process, told the panel that some of the proposed mitigation measures would only partially reduce impacts on its land and that some of the proposed mitigation measures have impacts of their own.
The federal government appointed the three-member panel to carry out the environmental assessment in 2016.
The report also says the proposed terminal would support competitiveness for Canadian markets and that Metro Vancouver, the City of Delta, and nearby Indigenous groups could benefit from employment and other business opportunities.
Charlotte Dawe, with the environmental group the Wilderness Committee, said in a statement the report should put an end to the “short-sighted project.”
“We're happy and encouraged the panel has heard our concerns and have agreed the project has significant risks to southern resident killer whales, chinook salmon and many others.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2020.