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City council rebuffs rail inquiry request

One councillor calls it “effort to stall projects, move goal posts and use city council as a political tool to make a political statement”
This train derailed between Terrace and Prince Rupert on July 18, 2019. One train car spilled wood pellets, and no dangerous goods were involved. (Natalia Balcerzak/Terrace Standard)

Terrace city council has opted not to request a northwest rail safety inquiry from the federal government, after being asked to do so by a local environmental advocacy group.

Anne Hill, a representative of North West Watch Society (NWW), appeared at a council meeting Sept. 28 to make the request.

She told council that NWW is concerned about a potential increase in hazardous petroleum products being shipped by rail that would result if two proposed industrial developments were built — a proposed petroleum storage and export facility to be built on Ridley Island (near Prince Rupert) by Vopak Development Canada, and a proposed propane export facility to be built in Kitimat by Pacific Traverse Energy.

Hill said mandatory environmental impact assessments of the proposed projects would not extend to consider the rail lines upon which goods for the proposed projects would travel.

“The only environmental assessment that’s being done is for the propane terminals themselves, so the transport of dangerous goods along the river, through towns, through avalanche zones and flood zones is not being considered in this environmental assessment,” she said.

Hill also questioned Canadian National Railway’s (CN) track record on risk mitigation and reporting of rail incidents to the public.

She asked city council to write a letter to Marc Garneau, federal transport minister, requesting that the minister begin an inquiry into the proposed increase of shipments of hazardous goods.

Council voted to receive NWW’s request without acting on it. Councillor James Cordeiro said he thought the request was made in bad faith, and that he didn’t think there was any method of transporting hazardous petroleum products that would satisfy NWW.

“Their group is on record for opposing every single pipeline of petroleum products that has been proposed. They are on record as opposing truck traffic for petroleum products such as LNG, and they have opposed rail transportation for petroleum products,” he said at the meeting. “I think this is just an effort to stall projects, move goal posts and use city council as a political tool to make a political statement on this project.”

Cordeiro added that there are more important issues that the City has been trying to have Garneau address.

“I think [requesting a rail inquiry] undermines our credibility with the minister, and there’s other projects that we have been working to get his help with,” Cordeiro said.

Councillor Jessica McCallum-Miller opposed council’s handling of the NWW request.

“We do have an obligation and really a responsibility [to ensure] that our residents are and do feel safe,” she said. “If some feel, in our community, that an inquiry needs to be initiated, I feel that we should listen to those concerns, and do anything we can to prevent potential derailments.”

Several other Northwest municipal governments received similar requests from citizens in recent weeks. The District of Houston opted to send a letter to Garneau requesting an inquiry.