Federal government approves massive new superport for Metro Vancouver

Apr 20 2023, 11:20 pm

Following years of review, the Government of Canada has approved Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s proposal to build Roberts Bank Terminal 2 as a very significant expansion of the existing Roberts Bank superport just off Delta — near BC Ferries’Ā  Tsawwassen terminal — in the Strait of Georgia.

The announcement on the approval notes the port authority’s project can proceed if it follows 370 legally binding conditions to protect the environment, including preventing harm to local species.

There will be a significant land reclamation on the west side of the existing container terminal — almost doubling its land area — to accommodate three new additional berths.

The long causeway jutting out of the mainland will be widened to accommodate additional road and freight railway capacity, and the tug basin will be expanded to provide a second tug operations contractor.

The amount of new land created will amount to about 450 acres — equivalent to roughly half the size of Stanley Park.

It is anticipated the terminal’s operations will be partially automated, similar to new container terminals elsewhere in the world, and establishing the greatest degree of automation for a port facility in Metro Vancouver.

Existing superport condition:

roberts bank deltaport existing

The existing Roberts Bank terminal in Delta. (Google Earth)

Future superport condition:

Artistic rendering of Roberts Bank Terminal 2 in Delta. (Vancouver Fraser Port Authority)

Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Port of Vancouver

Artistic rendering of Roberts Bank Terminal 2 in Delta. (Vancouver Fraser Port Authority)

The new superport capacity provided by Roberts Bank Terminal 2 will boost Metro Vancouver’s overall container handling capacity by an additional 2.4 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) per year. In contrast, the Centerm container terminal immediately north of the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver currently has a capacity for 1.5 million TEUs — up from 900,000 TEUs prior to the full completion of its expansion earlier in 2023.

The superport classification of this facility generally means the location is in a deep water area, and is capable of accommodating very large vessels.

The estimated cost of building Roberts Bank Terminal 2 is over $2 billion, with the project self-funded by the port authority. It could reach completion in the 2030s, based on a construction timeline of about six years.

In its rationale for approving the project, the federal government states it believes Canada’s major West Coast ports will reach maximum capacity, which means congestion will become a “chronic issue.” The facility will increase the port’s capacity by 50%, but without the port expansion, the Canadian economy faces forfeiting $3 billion in added GDP.

According to the World Bank, in 2021, the Port of Vancouver — the collection of port facilities in Metro Vancouver — was ranked as the world’s third worst port for performance out of 370 ports around the globe.

Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Port of Vancouver

Artistic rendering of Roberts Bank Terminal 2 in Delta. (Vancouver Fraser Port Authority)

Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Port of Vancouver

Artistic rendering of Roberts Bank Terminal 2 in Delta. (Vancouver Fraser Port Authority)

“This project will reduce the congestion of ships in the Vancouver area and, combined with substantial government investment, can be done in a way that protects vital local habitats,” said Steven Guilbeault, the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, in a statement.

Omar Alghabra, the federal Minister of Transport, added: “Our government makes decisions that take into account science, environmental protection and economic needs. The approval of this project was not taken lightly. With strong measures, we will protect our ecosystem while increasing Canadaā€™s supply chain capacity to ensure Canadians receive affordable goods on time while growing our economy and creating well-paying, middle-class jobs.”

The legally binding conditions include over 100 measures to protect local wildlife, such as developing habitat creation programs to support the western sandpiper populations and other shorebirds, implementing an approach to prevent negative effects on biofilm, limiting in-water construction, requiring zero-emission cargo handling equipment on-site and offering electrical shore power to ships when berthed, and mitigation infrastructure for fish and mammal impacts.

Roberts Bank Terminal 2

The environmental mitigation projects proposed for the Port of Vancouver’s Roberts Bank Terminal 2 expansion. (Port of Vancouver)

Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Port of Vancouver

Artistic rendering of Roberts Bank Terminal 2 in Delta. (Vancouver Fraser Port Authority)

Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Port of Vancouver

Artistic rendering of Roberts Bank Terminal 2 in Delta. (Vancouver Fraser Port Authority)

To address the concerns of local First Nations in the area, the federal government is providing $45 million to mitigate the project impacts on Indigenous rights, including the creation of a Stewardship Committee for project oversight. The Tsawwassen First Nation is located next to the superport.

Additionally, the port authority is required to set aside a $150-million financial guarantee to ensure funds are available for the first three years of construction to comply with the legally binding conditions.

With the federal government’s decision to approve the port authority’s Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project, it extinguishes the smaller, incremental proposal by private company Global Container Terminals (GCT) to build a southward expansion of the existing terminal — a project known as Deltaport Expansion Berth 4. GCT, the port authority’s operator for the existing facility, would add a fourth berth and supporting infrastructure to add about two million TEUs. Over the years, there has been infighting — including court battles — between the port authority and GCT over which project should proceed.

As of the time of writing, the port authority and GCT have yet to comment on the federal government’s decision.

Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Port of Vancouver

Artistic rendering of Roberts Bank Terminal 2 in Delta. (Vancouver Fraser Port Authority)

Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Port of Vancouver

Artistic rendering of Roberts Bank Terminal 2 in Delta. (Vancouver Fraser Port Authority)

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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