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Archive for January 25th, 2013

Port Authority: Climate change not our problem

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The following is a Press Release from Voters Taking Action on Climate Change on the decision yesterday by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to approve plans for coal export expansion at Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver.

I am copying it in full since it is well argued and referenced – and I somehow doubt that it will attract anything like the coverage it deserves in the mainstream media (which goes to the Vancouver Sun story. VTACC isn’t mentioned but the responsibility issue is. You might have to pay to read that.)

The contrast to the way that coal terminal expansion in our region is being dealt with stands on stark contrast to the ongoing battle just to the south of us.

Climate change not our problem: Port Authority approves Neptune coal export expansion
— shrugs off calls for broader consultation on climate, health impacts from climate scientists, mayors, Lung Association and others

For immediate release

January 24 2013

Vancouver —

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority announced yesterday that it has approved plans for coal export expansion at Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver.   In doing so it ignored appeals from the public, climate scientists, regional mayors, the BC Lung Association and leading NGO’s(1) to delay a decision until the broad public had been thoroughly consulted on the climate and potential health impacts of this proposal.

Approval means that coal exports from this facility will expand by as much as 13 million tonnes per year over 2011 levels.(2) At full output, Neptune Terminals could see 4 to 5 loaded coal trains arriving each day (up to 10 train trips per day total), based on current coal train capacities.(3)

The Port Authority has rejected arguments about climate change, potential health impacts, and broad public consultation in making its decision.  We address each of these points in turn below.

Climate Change
Climate change is a real and urgent threat to our children’s future.  The greenhouse gas emissions that will result from the burning of BC’s coal exports will hurt all global citizens, including British Columbians.  The International Energy Agency reported last year that if we continue to blindly service increasing demand for fossil fuels, by 2050 the world will be locked into a devastating 6 degree increase in temperature.

Taking steps to avoid this outcome cannot be reconciled with increasing exports of coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels.  “Business as usual” is no longer an option.  We must all take responsibility to reduce emissions.  The Port Authority does not get a free pass on this issue by choosing to narrowly interpret its federal mandate as the demand-driven facilitation of trade.

Coal exports from Metro Vancouver have increased considerably in recent years, and if the Neptune Terminals and Fraser Surrey Docks coal export proposals are both approved Metro Vancouver will be the biggest coal exporter in North America.  Total emissions from this exported coal would be greater than those from the Northern Gateway pipeline.  The public should not think that these will be the last proposals to increase coal exports out of our region.(4)

The Port Authority and its tenant, Neptune Terminals, have not explicitly acknowledged that metallurgical coal exported from Neptune Terminals, when used in steel making, produces as much global warming pollution as thermal coal used in power production.  By ignoring the harm that these exports will do to our fragile climate, Neptune Terminals and the Port Authority do a disservice to the public. 

Regional impacts from increased coal train traffic
The Port Authority has not acknowledged that developments on its own lands have impacts in communities far outside its jurisdiction.  It has not addressed the fact that the Neptune Terminals expansion will result in increased train traffic through North Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey, Langley and other municipalities further afield, resulting in increased exposure to diesel emissions and unknown amounts of coal dust.

The Port Authority indicates that Transport Canada has the power to regulate rail traffic, but it does not clarify that there are no regulations governing the release of coal dust from trains in Canada, and that any measures to control coal dust escapes are entirely voluntary on the part of railways.  The Port Authority has ignored a call from the BC Lung Association, the Public Health Association of BC, Canadian Physicians for the  Environment and individual health leaders to delay these decisions until unanswered questions about potential health impacts have been properly assessed.  If the Port Authority truly aspires to be a good neighbour to Metro Vancouver communities, it would work to close these gaps in public oversight prior to approval of coal export expansion.

Port Authority decision making and consultation processes
We remind the Port Authority that their federal  mandate includes a requirement that they act with broad public support in the best interests of Canadians.   The Port Authority has ignored calls from the Mayors of Vancouver and New Westminster for broader public consultation on these decisions.  They have ignored similar calls from leading public organizations and high profile individuals.  Again, these actions call into question the Port Authority’s aspirations to be a good neighbour to Metro Vancouver communities.

In keeping with the Port Authority’s stated commitment to transparency, we call on the Port Authority to make public all comments received during their consultation over the Neptune Terminals decision, as was done during the scoping phase of the review of the proposed Cherry Point coal terminal in Washington State.

More broadly, the conduct of the Port Authority during this review process calls into question how well it reflects the interests of the region within which it operates.  Seven of eleven seats on the Port’s Board of Directors are nominated by port users.  Only one seat is nominated by regional communities.  There are no board members representing health concerns.  There are no board members representing environmental concerns. Voters Taking Action on Climate Change (VTACC) calls on the federal government to change the make up of the Port Authority board to better reflect the priorities of our region in Port decision making.

“The Port doesn’t lack the authority to consider climate change or broad health concerns in its decisions, it lacks the courage to do so,” said Kevin Washbrook, Director with VTACC.  “We think the Port Authority shrugs off any responsibility for these issues because its board doesn’t reflect who we are as a region, our shared concern for a healthy future and our sense of a moral obligation to take action on climate change,” Washbrook said.

VTACC calls on the Port Authority to reconsider this decision, to open it to full public review, and to more broadly interpret their mandate to incorporate shared responsibility for our future.  This is the transparent, fair and morally responsible thing to do.

“It is hypocritical to celebrate Vancouver as a Green City and British Columbia as a climate leader, while we continue to prosper from the export of coal and oil,” said VTACC Director, Kathryn Harrison “With each approval of new infrastructure for coal exports, the Port Authority further locks us into an economic path dependent on  fossil fuels. They are sacrificing our children’s future for short-term gain.”


(1) Read the open letter from climate leaders here. Signatories included Bill McKibben, James Hansen, David Suzuki, Andrew Weaver, Mark Jaccard, Naomi Klein, Tzeporah Berman, William Rees, Greenpeace Canada, the Council of Canadians, the Islands Trust Council and a host of other individuals and organizations.

(2) Starting with the Port Authority’s overall figures for coal exports in 2011 (32.7 million tonnes in 2011) and subtracting Westshore’s self published figures (27.3 million tonnes) leaves approximately 5.2 million tonnes for Neptune in 2011. (Minor amounts of coal may have been shipped from other locations.)  The proposals just approved will increase Neptune Terminals capacity to 18.5 million tonnes/yr.

(3) A rough estimate of the relationship between daily train traffic and annual export volumes can be derived from the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal. This indicates that 4 million tonnes/yr export results in 1 coal train per day (scroll down to point 8).  Other sources confirm these numbers, assuming standard rail car volumes and 126 car trains.   Applied to Neptune, this means that in 2011, with exports of approximately 5.2 million tonnes, there was likely 1 coal train per day to the terminal, and perhaps 2 on some days — or 2 to 4 one way trips in loaded and out empty.

Using the same calculations, exports of 18.5 million tonnes per year would mean 4 to 5 coal deliveries per day, and 8 to 10 total train trips (in loaded, out empty).  Neptune indicates that it may begin using trains that are 152 cars in length.  If that is the case it would decrease the total number of daily trips, assuming the rail cars were the same volume.

It’s worth noting that longer trains will also increase delays at rail crossings; a 152 car train is approximately 2.6 km in length

(4) Fraser Surrey Docks has indicated that it is seeking out other coal export customers in addition to BNSF.  If the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal near Bellingham Washington (projected to generate 18 return coal train trips per day) is not approved, there will be increased pressure to export US coal through BC.  Westshore Terminals general manager Denis Horgan has stated that currently proposed capacity increases will not be enough to meet expected demand:

“Between us, Neptune and Ridley right now, let’s say we’re close to 50 million tons capacity. All of us combined. With all of these projects going on in a couple years time we’ll be at 70 million. But even then it still isn’t enough,” said Denis Horgan, vice president and general manager, Westshore Terminal.”

Written by Stephen Rees

January 25, 2013 at 8:50 am

So, about that art we had …

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I was talking about that art lecture that I wrote about yesterday – and I recalled that at the time what was going through my mind, on the way home, was the difference between what Sans Façon does and what has been happening here. For a start in Calgary they are embedded as part of the project team. The art is actually part of the process from the start.

A good example was how they got involved in attaching drinking fountains to fire hydrants. These are not permanent installations, but temporary public amenities provided for events like the Stampede or the Folk Festival. It helps Calgary get across the message that there is nothing wrong with tap water – so there is no need to go to a vendor and buy bottled water, when the stuff that comes out of the tap is freely available. Originally, the water people saw a device that essentially plugged a commercial drinking fountain into a fire hydrant, and they just wanted the artist to design a label to stick on it. But Calgary has one of the largest and finest metal workshops in North America – a bunch of skilled and talented people who came up with a number of innovative ideas – and actually fabricated them. They then went and installed them where they were needed, and let them speak for themselves.


Contrast that with the public art program on the Canada Line. As regular readers know, the process by which that amenity was procured leaves a bad taste in my mouth for a number of reasons. The cycle path on the bridge is a good example. It was an afterthought – literally bolted on after the bridge itself was completed. And the ramps on either side showing a degree of contempt for users that is hard to comprehend but only too obvious to its users. The ramps zig-zag. They do not provide not a smooth transition: they do not connect properly to the “network”,  the cycle routes on either bank. The art program is even worse. A bunch of ill considered, nearly always temporary installations. Most of which need to be “explained” by signage. It is very significant, I think, that there no signs on Sans Façon’s work, like Limelight. They trust that people will “get it”. And, of course, they do because they – the public – are the art, the performers, not just a passive audience.

Sans Façon does do temporary installations as well as permanent ones. Both have their place. But what sets them apart is their understanding of the place and the people in it – and the amount of effort that they make to ensure they have that before the piece is even considered, let alone installed. Can you say the same about any of this?

Public art at Langara 49th Ave

The bright orange bears were at least striking and memorable. Can you think what is there now? Didn’t think so.

Le Banc

I heard this referred to as “a used maxi pad”

Joe Sola is Not Making Art

And that goes for the public art program in Richmond too – these are all Biennale installations all of which were controversial, none of which remain in place


“Olas de Viento” became one of my favourite pieces – far more distinguished I think than the laughing men that were kept at Davie and Denman. Garry Point seems bare and deserted after this bold red open work globe went. I still miss it. I will also admit to not really understanding it when I first saw it – but then that is probably the point of a lot of art. Guernica doesn’t mean much if you don’t know anything about who made it, when and why.

Cabeza Vainilla, Cabeza ordoba, Cabeza Chiapas

There was a glut of fibre glass giant heads, I thought, and I don’t miss any of them.

Lighting effect

The people who installed “Miss Mao Trying to Poise Herself at the Top of Lenin’s Head” had so little understanding of the artist’s intentions, that they lined up each of the horizontal slice perfectly. So it is perhaps not surprising that is was misunderstood as some kind of tribute to Lenin – since in communist countries, dignified busts of Lenin were all too common.

Lenin's head is all over the place

Actually once misaligned, as originally intended, the joke “Lenin’s head is all over place” sprung to my mind instantly. The feminization of Mao and her nudity, and tiny stature all speak for themselves. No-one ought to have misunderstood that – but they did.

All of this is a very strong contrast to the public art program on the Sound Transit rapid transit line to their airport which opened at around the same time. We even had a presentation about that here. And it seems I chose two of the same images then to illustrate that post as I did this one. No wonder I keep thinking I am repeating myself. We did go to Seattle soon afterwards, and I considered riding the whole of the light rail line just to see the art first hand. It turned out that when we got there there was plenty to do within the fareless square. We walked and cycled too – and the LRT got forgotten.

PS  SoundTransit has an rfq out now for an artist to aid in “identifying art opportunities for multiple artists at the facilities and 10 stations along the 14-mile light rail extension being designed from downtown Seattle through Mercer Island and Bellevue to the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington.”

Written by Stephen Rees

January 25, 2013 at 8:31 am

Posted in Art

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