BC taxpayers to pay billions for Christy Clark’s bridge
The Massey Bridge Replacement means increased costs for taxpayers and commuters. It would also open up the Fraser River to Panamax tankers, enabling a massive expansion of fossil fuel exports
Excerpts published with permission from Daniel Wood. See the full article in The Tyee.
If today’s B.C. government has its way, work will start late this year on a massive $3.5-billion bridge, financed through a Public-Private Partnership (P3), to be completed by 2022.
Which means a stiff toll to pay off private creditors in the years ahead. Which will also mean that the perfectly safe, perfectly good tunnel will be removed. Which could then allow that section of the riverbed to be dredged three to six metres deeper. Which will jeopardize migrating Fraser River salmon. But which will also provide sufficient draft for 300-metre ships to load coal and liquefied natural gas (LNG) at expanded riverside facilities in Delta, Surrey and Richmond.
“Despite what Christy Clark says, the reason for the bridge has little to do with removing congestion,” Harold Steves, Richmond City Councillor, says. “A twinned tunnel would solve that. But Port Metro Vancouver doesn’t want a twinned tunnel. It doesn’t want any tunnels. It’s not about congestion. It’s about ships. The bridge has got everything to do with Port Metro Vancouver’s plans to industrialize the Fraser.”
“Twinning the tunnel” has come to mean, in BC Liberal newspeak, building a 10-lane, three-kilometre-long, $3.5-billion toll bridge — almost seven times more than the 2006 estimate for twinning the tunnel and improving Hwy 99, according to a Vancouver Sun report at the time.
The machinations that led to this shift of provincial policy would not have been known if a coalition of environmental activists, calling themselves Fraser Voices, hadn’t begun seeking information about secret B.C. government communications, beginning in 2012, between Port Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Surrey Docks and their powerful shipping allies intent on opening up the river to huge Panamax vessels and the Fraser shoreline to industrial expansion.
But when the environmental group first asked for Freedom of Information access to government emails about how the twinned tunnels abruptly became the big toll bridge, researchers were told there weren’t any. They didn’t exist.
Among Fraser Voice’s activists is Doug Massey, who at 83 can still get mad. “When I first heard the tunnel was going to be removed,” he says, “it got my Irish up.” After all, it was his father, George Massey, who spent years as a Delta MLA pushing for the crossing that now bears his name.
And Doug Massey knew that after the seismic upgrades were completed in 2006 the tunnel was in excellent shape. In fact, the 57-year-old tunnel is identical in construction to one built under Holland’s Maas River 74 years ago, and said to be good for 50 more years.
So, he wondered, what was really behind the push to replace his father’s tunnel? With help from investigative researcher Susan Jones and Kevin Washbrook of Voters Taking Action Against Climate Change, he began digging, and found that B.C. government emails did exist in the records of recipients like Transport Canada.
Sitting in his crammed home office in Tsawwassen, Massey starts handing me dozens of pages of emails.
The critical one is dated Feb. 2, 2012. The email schedules a meeting in the office of an assistant deputy minister in the province’s transportation ministry. On the invitation list were a senior ministry engineer, the CEO and a manager from Fraser Surrey Docks, and a “bridge engineer” from the company that did the earlier seismic studies on the tunnel. Port Metro Vancouver’s “Container Capacity Improvement Program” was also included.
The subject of the meeting, according to the ADM, was “options and considerations around the George Massey Tunnel and a sustainable navigational channel.”
That was more than seven months before Clark announced the government wanted to replace the tunnel and began public consultations and more than 19 months before she announced the bridge plan.
Shippers certainly supported the bridge option. And by September 2012 Transport Canada was being advised that industry and government stakeholders favoured removal of the tunnel. “This is what members have been telling me,” wrote Ruth Sol of WESTAC, an association of transportation companies, unions and governments, to Transport Canada. “George Massey tunnel needs to be replaced — to increase its capacity and the draft above the tunnel so larger ships can access the facilities on the Fraser River.”
Massey says the emails and reports he and his associates uncovered show Port Metro Vancouver and Surrey Fraser Docks were gathering information on the bridge height and channel depth required to allow LNG tankers and Panamax cargo ships to reach expanded port facilities on the Fraser River long before the provincial government announced the bridge plan.
On Dec. 4, 2012, still more than nine months before Clark announced the plan to replace the tunnel with a bridge, Port Metro Vancouver managers were setting out their goals in an email. Any new crossing should allow 15.5 metres of depth based on expected shipping needs in the next 50 years, and 18.5 metres based on a 100-year life expectancy, the port’s dredging expert noted. The current tunnel is 12 metres deep. PMV also wanted a bridge to be 65 metres above the Fraser, to allow ships to reach expanded port facilities on the Fraser.
Massey notes that the email exchanges reflect the port’s expansion plans. “We need to consider future terminals such as VAFFC, Lehigh, and possible terminal at our Richmond properties,” writes one PMV manager in an email about port plans along the Fraser River. (VAFFC is the planned Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation jet fuel terminal and Lehigh refers to Lehigh Hanson’s plans for a bulk terminal.)
And an email from March 2013 makes Port Metro Vancouver’s desire clear: “Option No. 2: Replacing the tunnel with a new bridge in the same location. Not publicly confirmed yet, but this is (Port Metro’s) preference.”
Seven months later, Clark announced a new bridge.
Coincidence? Perhaps not. Follow the story further here.