Sunday, February 19, 2017

Below is a transcript of a letter to the editor of The Optimist (Feb. 17) from Todd Stone, Minister for Transportation and Infrastructure. My (slightly edited) response, sent to both The Optimist and the Richmond News follows.
Re: Former premier says bridge is a bad idea, Feb. 8

Recently, Mike Harcourt has been suggesting that a twinned tunnel is the best option to replace the aging George Massey Tunnel. This is simply not borne out by the facts, or by the opinions of the thousands of consultation participants that took the time to share their views over a period of more than four years.
The existing 60-year-old tunnel does not meet current seismic standards, nor can it be brought up to current standards without risk of damage, which could render the crossing unusable. This same risk would require that a "twin tunnel" be built much farther upstream (or downstream) to avoid risk of damage during construction.

As a result, compared to building a new bridge, construction of a new (or twin) tunnel would take more agricultural land, would be more difficult and risky to construct, would be more environmentally invasive and require more long-term maintenance.

It would be more seismically vulnerable if the old tunnel was retained. And it certainly could not be done for the $1.7 billion Harcourt suggests.

Harcourt also suggests the bridge project will cost $4.7 billion, rather than $3.5 billion, citing an Oxford study on international transportation projects from 2003 that found bridge projects over the previous 50 years were on average 30 per cent over budget. What he didn't relay while advocating for a tunnel was that the same study has tunnel projects worldwide at more than 48 per cent over

More importantly, the study he references is from nearly 15 years ago, and our experience with major infrastructure projects means we are much more accurate with our estimates than before 2003. I'll point to the recently finished and opened Evergreen Line to reinforce this point: We built that line $75 million under its $1.43 billion budget - despite the many challenges we faced along the way.
I am confident we will build the Massey replacement bridge within the $3.5 billion budget.
Harcourt also suggests we wait 20 years to fix the worst traffic bottleneck in B.C., while the population continues to grow. That is simply not an option.

I do agree with Harcourt that traffic congestion and bottlenecks, among other things, are harming our economic future. That's why our government has taken action, by replacing the Port Mann, and by adding the South Fraser Perimeter Road, Canada Line and Evergreen Line. We've also recently announced plans to add capacity to the Alex Fraser, and improve Highway 1 through North Vancouver.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Protecting our farmlands

We need to protect our community from urban sprawl.
There will be incredible pressure on Delta to develop should the Massey Bridge be built. Residential development will not be the only source of pressure. The CEO for the Port of Vancouver (PoV) has made it clear that the Port wants access to more land for industrial purposes. This has caused speculation. Speculation always drives up land prices.

Recently the city of Vancouver raised the fees for development permits. They made it clear that the costs for development are greater than the income that permits generate. This means that the capital costs for all development is subsidized by the taxpayer. In a city like Vancouver where infrastructure is largely in place this is a lesser concern. Development follows high density zoning patterns. Once density is achieved the increase in tax base helps cover the operating costs of that infrastructure.
The operating costs of servicing infrastructure (ie roads, sewers and amenities), is less likely to be covered for a municipality like Delta. The only thing that will improve this is density. It will take many years for that kind of density to be in place. For all those years the residents of Delta will be covering not only the capital costs for development, they will be subsidizing the operating costs.

In order for this density to happen in Delta we lose farmland. This encroachment of farmland is happening across the world. Populations increase and farmland is diminishing everywhere.  This makes it increasingly difficult for production levels to keep up with world needs. Add to that the climatic difficulties we’re experiencing and we find our grocery costs increasing every year. Water shortages, floods, frost and hail storms in temperate zones are now regularly occurrences.
All this makes it ever more important to protect the farmland we have. To suggest that we can just import our food is irresponsible. We have the opportunity now to protect our food needs and not be reliant on imports. Self-sufficiency will be instrumental in Canada’s well-being.

This will require planning on a scale not seen before. Industrial and residential growth need to be planned along with infrastructure needs and preservation of our agricultural land base. The only way this can be achieved is through co-operation and governmental transparency.
Presently our communities aren’t so much planned as they are politicized. Decisions are made in isolation with little value placed on community input. Without clear reasoning from our politicians an atmosphere of distrust is created. BC’s triple delete scandal has made a mockery of our ‘Freedom of Information’ access to government decisions. Many documents are now redacted in order to “protect certain parties”. If those “certain parties” are not the citizens of BC, who are they?

In order for our communities to be planned and successful our democratic process has to serve us. Our values need to be protected as well as our assets. Without due process or careful planning our quality of life will deteriorate and be less than it can be.

Looking forward to a new bridge

This was a response to a letter to the editor in the Optimist. It was not printed in the Optimist but the Richmond News did run a copy of it.
RE: ‘Looking forward to a new bridge’ Optimist January 20.

Five years into the bridge discussion, personal preferences still seem to rule opinions.

The issue of the bridge is not one of transit/transportation. YES access over the Fraser needs to be improved. There is no question that the tunnel is inadequate.

The Fehmarn tunnel planned between Denmark and Germany is over 17 km long and priced at approx $4 billion. It includes four traffic lanes and a transit lane and there is no concern over safety.

The Massey tunnel has had an unequaled safety record during its lifespan. The only safety concerns are government spin. That and the ‘dilapidated’ appearance of the tunnel are meant to convince us the tunnel is not safe.

What we need to understand is the hidden agenda with the bridge. This agenda has nothing to do with transit infrastructure.

The bridge is an excuse to remove the Massey tunnel. The tunnel is the only obstacle stopping the Port from dredging the Fraser River. Once dredged, the intent is to make the Fraser Surrey Docks a deep sea port to handle more trade with China.

The bridge is a vanity project for the Federal Government and the Port of Vancouver, not just Christy Clark. There is a reason our member of parliament is quiet on the subject of an environmental review. There are international interests at stake. If the Province can sell the idea of the bridge, the Port hopes to slip the planned harbour in without the appropriate studies or planning affecting traffic or the Fraser Delta and Estuary.

The result of this is an incredibly poorly planned and expensive piece of traffic infrastructure that does not serve greater Vancouver. It only serves those of us who chose to live South of the Fraser, irrespective of the tunnel.

Yes there is growth South of the Fraser and this needs to be addressed. A 10 lane bridge will increase this growth exponentially causing ‘urban sprawl’. Urban sprawl is the most expensive type of municipal area and growth to service.

The “Pacific Gateway” plan is the federal initiative driving this bridge. BC taxpayers will end up paying for it.  We will pay for its construction, we will pay for crossing it and Delta taxpayers will end up paying for the urban sprawl it generates.

It’s our responsibility to inform ourselves. All three levels of government are being less than truthful on this issue.

Peter van der Velden


This was first posted in Nov. of 2016
Would the real Carla Qualtrough please stand up!

Recently Rookie Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam MP Ron McKinnon sent a letter to Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr stating that the Kinder Morgan pipeline is “detrimental to British Columbia and should not proceed” (Vancouver Sun Nov. 17). It is good to hear that now several MP’s from BC have spoken up for their constituents.

When Prime Minister Trudeau was elected he vowed to “be the Prime Minister for all Canadians.” In his victory speech on October 19, 2015 in Montreal. He went on to say that “We beat negative, divisive politics with a positive vision that brings Canadians together."

Sadly this doesn’t seem to be the case for all the Liberal Party endeavors. Here in Delta there is a struggle to preserve the Fraser River and Estuary as well as our agricultural land base.  All are under threat from the Federal Crown Corporation of the Port of Vancouver. Inaction from the Federal Liberals is dividing our community.

Ottawa has been mum on the issues of Port expansion. They have left it to the Victoria to take responsibility for the removal of the Massey Tunnel. The Provincial proposal to build a ten lane bridge quietly hides this defining reason for the tunnel removal. Victoria has added to the spin by declaring they are not proposing to dredge the Fraser. This has also been claimed by Port CEO Robin Silvester. Through FOI requests we know this is just not true. It is the only reason to remove the Massey Tunnel which is the limiting factor to deeper dredging.

Port expansion plans have already put enormous strain on farmland in Richmond and Delta. Speculation is raising the cost of farmland immensely. Environmental concerns over Terminal Two expansion have only now rippled the waters. Environment Canada has finally spoken up on the issue of Biofilm. This issue has been on the forefront of Respected Professionals opposed to the expansion for years.

Carla Qualtrough, our elected Member of Parliament expressed concerns over these issues during the election. Since the election she has been mum about Port Expansion. Her only comment on the tunnel removal is concern over traffic problems. This hardly seems reasonable. Most of the tunnel traffic neither originates nor ends in her constituency.

Yes, we need an improved crossing for the Fraser. Let the plans for that crossing be driven by regional planners and not by Port of Vancouver needs. Would our elected Member of Parliament please speak up for her constituents like some of her counterparts!

Peter van der Velden

This was first posted on Dec. 10, 2016

RE: T2 Stance unchanged: MP. Optimist Fri Dec 9.

“We need a robust environmental assessment process in Canada that wouldn't even let this kind of discussion start happening.” A direct quote from MP Qualtrough’s campaign 

So far the only assessment undertaken is the Port of Vancouver assessment for T2 which was recently shown lacking by Environment Canada. A ‘robust environmental assessment’ could only be an independent assessment with respect and interest in public input. All Port ‘public input sessions’ have been little more than one-way streams of information.

Ms. Qualtrough states that "We have a really, really sensitive estuary and ecosystem that we're dealing with that matters to… the world. Our estuary is pretty unique." If she were really, really interested in the effects on the estuary and the Fraser River she would show that to her constituents. She would demand an independent full assessment.

Her refusal to get involved speaks volumes. She has not spoken out or supported the bid to have an environmental review (ie ‘robust environmental assessment’) done for the Massey Tunnel replacement bridge. This bridge is proposed to allow the Federal Crown Corporation, Port of Vancouver, to remove the tunnel and dredge the Fraser. Make no mistake; the bridge is a federal initiative not a provincial project. What the bridge does for planning of traffic or transit is completely wrong for Metro Vancouver.

All Port proposals, T2, the bridge, dredging, jet fuel handling, etc., should be reviewed with one complete environmental assessment. These are Federal initiatives under the Liberal Party. The present piecemeal approach is completely inadequate. If Ms. Qualtrough really believes her stance has not changed I suggest she looks back at her quote: “Under a Liberal government, we would look at the cumulative effects of all these different things and that's not happening now.”  It is still not happening under the government she is a part of.

Ms. Qualtrough also mentions the need for a new ‘business case’. The Port has had to change their business case through to the year 2050 in order to justify T2. “The science” of the environmental effects cannot be spun or molded like a business case. Do the right thing Ms. Qualtrough; support Metro Vancouver’s bid for a full environmental assessment of all Port projects on the Fraser. Show your commitment to Delta!

Peter van der Velden


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The environment and the industrialization of the Fraser River

There has been a lot of pressure on Vancouver and British Columbia to allow the industrialization of the Fraser River. The Port of Vancouver (POV) under the guidance of Robin Silvester has established itself as the driver for the Pacific Gateway Plan. Many people, groups and professionals have spoken out against much of this development. For years preferable alternatives have been studied, discussed and proposed. Most of this has fallen on deaf ears as the environment appears to have taken a back seat to the economy.

At the AGM for the Port “Sustainability” as defined by Robin Silvester takes the following order: 1-The Economy, 2-The Environment and 3-Community. This would suggest that jobs are more important than the environment. If we severely compromise or destroy the planet with climate change (through industry/jobs) there will be no jobs. In order to have sustainability the Environment must be considered before the Economy. That is not to belittle the importance of the Economy. By all means, we need to survive. However, Prime Minister Trudeau was elected with the understanding that he recognizes the importance of the environment in the balance of sustainability.

The industrialization of the Fraser is the starting point of further degrading our fish supply and food chain. It stays the course of known industrial development (as opposed to “new” or “alternative” development) at the cost of the environment. It is not known or studied how further dredging of the Fraser will damage fish stock. It is not known how much damage will be done by the increase in the salt wedge due to the deeper channel. This will affect both fish stock and farm irrigation practices.

The Fraser River is the primary and possibly the largest source of Chinook Salmon. This species has already seriously been affected by many factors, most man-made. As a result of the dwindling salmon stock (and other factors, also man-made) the “Southern Resident Killer Whales” residing in our coastal waters are at peril. Salmon, primarily the Chinook from the Fraser makes up 97% of the Orca diet for the three resident pods. The pod numbers have decreased to about 80 and they are presently the only killer whale listed as endangered by the American Fish and Wildlife. The Canadian equivalent, COSEWIC, has also listed these pods as endangered.

These issues about the Salmon, Fraser and farming are just a few of the many detrimental affects the proposed Port developments have. There are issues over jet fuel, LNG gas handling and shipping, and urban sprawl and industry taking over valuable farm land. Not to mention the shipping of coal from the USA, which American ports have wisely refused to handle. How is it that the many environmental concerns over the Fraser expressed by the public have been waved off as insignificant? Why is our new Federal Government being quiet on this subject?

The Port of Vancouver is a Federal Crown Corporation and has a responsibility to be a good corporate citizen. Instead it is a corporation that claims to be community minded while showing little community concern. Claims of hundreds of hours of collaborative community involvement and thousands of hours of scientific study are regularly made. The fact that the city of Richmond, one of the most affected communities, is against this project speaks volumes. Now that the Board of Metro Vancouver has spoken up against the bridge will there be recognition of the issues? It seems unlikely as the first to respond was a collection of Chambers of Commerce in support of the Pacific Gateway Plan, thus supporting the bridge. Sadly the Vancouver Sun opinion piece carried a number of erroneous claims and failed to speak of the negative effects of the proposed bridge.

Where is the Board of the Port in all of this? It is the Board that should be driving the Port and the communities that should be driving the Board. This issue was recognized by our local MP during the election. So far no recognition of the issue has been made and any change to the Board or Board structure is no more than rumour.

Will this bridge be built? Premier Clark has said that contracts will not be signed until after the election. Ultimately we will have to see who wins the next Provincial election. Should the Liberals be re-elected, the bridge would seem to be a done deal.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

A letter to all Metro Vancouver mayors.

The time to act is now! Todd Stone has just confirmed Province commitment to the 2017 start for the Fraser River Bridge. The Federal government has not responded to the Metro environmental review request and it looks as though they won’t. The lack of response makes it clear that the Federal government is committed to continue to develop the Pacific Gateway Plan. This can only be achieved with the removal of the Massey tunnel. As such, the Port of Vancouver (POV) is driving this major traffic and transit decision. The result is a bridge that is in the wrong location, achieves little traffic improvement, does not deal with transit and will put more cars on the road.

We DO need to improve the crossing of the Fraser. Accessing the Alex Fraser Bridge can take as long as the Massey Tunnel  and is equally problematic. ANY appropriate long range planning would take care of this issue as well as the Oak and Knight Street corridors. This could be done at a fraction of the current estimated cost for the bridge. In previous planning studies this scenario added a bridge between the tunnel and the Alex Fraser and upgraded the Massey tunnel.

This alternative is much more viable for all traffic crossing the Fraser. It would separate the traffic flows that go to Richmond and Vancouver, Burnaby and East Vancouver and New Westminster/Annacis Island. This would greatly improve traffic, especially if the tunnel were twinned as planned. Traffic would move more effectively through existing stress points. As well it would allow for traffic growth by being more efficient. The reason for the present bridge is strictly so that the Massey tunnel can be removed to improve shipping traffic. This is the reason for opposition to the bridge; it isn’t being planned with the communities to serve traffic needs. Mayor Jackson is wrong when she states that the opposition to the bridge is political. Mayor Malcolm Brodie of Richmond is clear. There is no benefit to placing this bridge in this location.

With the proposed bridge, traffic will increase with the ensuing development of Delta. This will put more stress on Oak and Knight Street and the Alex Fraser Bridge. These are finite points that cannot be changed with acceptable costs. As a result another crossing will soon be needed to handle this traffic. If that crossing was built now and the tunnel maintained, we would be planning for the future. The estimated $3.5 Billion could cover a lot of Metro Vancouver traffic issues and possibly improve transit at the same time. The proposed bridge does none of this.

The fact is that the bridge is not the answer to our traffic/transit infrastructure needs. POV claims not to be driving the decision for the bridge. If this were true why is the height of the bridge established by the Port and why is the tunnel being removed? These are strictly Port drivers and have nothing to do with traffic, transit or planning for either.

Farm land will be lost with any proposed bridge. Saying there will be a net gain in farmland is irresponsible on Victoria’s part. These losses can be mitigated, but only in dialogue with the affected communities of Richmond and Delta. Dialogue seems of little interest to the current provincial government. Victoria is intent on reducing the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and has shown little interest in protecting it. If countless public input sessions have been held why is there so much opposition to the bridge? Why is the community of Richmond openly against the bridge? Most attendees will tell you the public sessions were a one way stream of information. The bridge does not serve a community model; it is based on an economic model.

Delta will lose a lot of farmland. Adding four lanes of traffic to reach Delta will convince people to move from Vancouver. This will put enormous pressure on the agricultural land base which is already under attack from POV plans. Every week Robin Silvester is quoted by the press that there is not enough land zoned for industrial purposes.

Farmland is at a premium and prices are rising. This is at least partially due to speculative investment. The need for Industrial and Residential land has brought a surge of price increases to Delta. As a result agricultural land is becoming too expensive to farm. Delta’s farmland is close to the Vancouver market and is located in an unequaled climate zone and it is at peril. Should the bridge be built much of it will be lost to urban sprawl as the Metro area grows.

The mayor of Delta supports the bridge and Port development. What has not been discussed is the incredible cost of urban sprawl. It is a known fact that servicing residential development in lower density areas is expensive. This cost will be borne by Delta residents. Not only will Delta lose its agricultural community, the cost of living will continue to rise. This cost only subsidizes development plans for the shipping industry.

From both Victoria and POV, spin appears to rule public relations. We have been -and continue to be- lied to by Victoria and the Federal Crown corporation*. As a result there is no trust. Worst of all is that a $3.5 (+) Billion undertaking is to be started without the appropriate planning and input from the communities affected. Victoria and Port representatives continue to try and convince us that all of the expressed concerns have been dealt with. Yet strong opposition remains and the government refuses to delay the timeline.

Concern has been expressed over the loss of business opportunities should the proposed bridge not be built. Consider this: The second busiest access route to Vancouver will be in upheaval for 3-5 years. This will only be the case if the bridge is built in the same location as the tunnel. If the bridge is built up-river of the tunnel there will be no loss of commerce. Jobs will be created equally by both proposals. The stress during the construction period of the proposed bridge will be much more serious than any experienced presently with repairs to the Patullo Bridge. The construction of the proposed bridge will be a hardship for all commuters and businesses.

Surprisingly, the Tsawwassen first nation supports the bridge. The giant mall being completed on their land stands to lose a lot of business during construction. People will have little interest in driving through a construction zone to the mall. The 1.5 million square feet of retail outlets need clients from the outlying areas to survive.

The proposed bridge is bad for the business community. Travel times through the construction period will be lengthened for all commuters and commerce. Hundreds of truckloads of building materials will block or slow traffic on a daily basis. The bottlenecks at Oak and Knight Street will only get worse as this supply chain moves through these corridors. For all of Vancouver, produce will cost more and will not be locally farmed or nearly as fresh. This in turn will put more trucks on the road.

Once the bridge is built the exodus from Vancouver to more economical housing will put yet more people on the road. Translink has made it clear that until a higher density is reached in this area there will be no increase in transit. As well, valuations and taxes will increase. All of these negative by-products have not been discussed and have been avoided by Victoria as well as Delta.

The decision for the bridge needs to be re-evaluated. Metro Vancouver will not benefit in any way from this incredible outlay of money. All mayors need to condemn this ineffective and wasteful proposal. The Federal government has shown no interest in containing Port Development which hinges on the proposed bridge. The POV Board is not responsive to community needs. The recent Annual General Meeting actually portrayed a board that claimed to be “collaborative”, in touch with and invested in “community”, “environmentally focused” and “sustainable”. People in Richmond would question all of that. Certainly the Board has no real presence in any of the affected communities, especially not Penny Priddy, the community representative. The port appears to be driven by CEO Robin Silvester and his initiatives to industrialize the Fraser. As a result we have a $3.5 Billion infrastructure proposal that has little value to the overall well being of Metro Vancouver.
 -There will be a net gain in farmland with the proposed bridge
 -We continue to work collaboratively with Metro Vancouver…to ensure this meets the needs of Metro Vancouver residents for generations
-There has never been a plan to “twin” the tunnel
-We don’t plan to dredge the Fraser River
-We will not be asking for any funding for Terminal 2 from the Federal Government
-There may be a gain in Biofilm and Sandpiper activity due to Terminal 2
-Container traffic is increasing