Port of Vancouver - Proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project (left) and existing Roberts Bank terminals (right).
Proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project (left) and existing Roberts Bank terminals (right).
Source: Port of Vancouver.
  • The Federal Government has approved the Port of Vancouver’s $3.5 billion expansion through Roberts Bank Terminal 2 after a decade of delays
  • The expansion represents an extra 30 per cent in capacity on Canada’s West Coast and approximately $3 billion in GDP growth
  • Numerous concerns about environmental damage and Indigenous rights are addressed in conditions within the government’s approval
  • The new terminal is estimated to take six years to construct, generating over 35,000 jobs to build and operate the facility

The Federal Government has approved the Port of Vancouver’s $3.5 billion expansion through Roberts Bank Terminal 2.

The news follows approximately a decade of delays and opposition to the project due to potential harm to local wildlife, Indigenous lands, and the livelihoods of current Port employees, who may be partially replaced by automation technology.

The port’s operating facilities in Delta are comprised of the Westshore Terminals, a coal-export terminal that ships more than 33 million tonnes of coal per year, and Deltaport, Canada’s largest container terminal with the capacity to handle 2.4 million 20-foot-equivalent-units (TEUs) per year. Both facilities sit atop of Roberts Bank at the mouth of the south arm of the Fraser River.

The new terminal will handle an additional 2.4 million TEUs of containers – doubling the size of the current 85-hectare Deltaport container terminal with offshore landfill – expand the road and rail causeway to Deltaport and Westshore Terminals, and expand the tug boat terminal to handle additional traffic. This amounts to an extra 30 per cent in capacity on Canada’s West Coast and approximately $3 billion in GDP growth, staving off the Port of Vancouver’s projected West Coast capacity shortage by the mid-2020s.

Currently, more than $275 billion of trade passes through the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority each year, making Canada’s Pacific Gateway the country’s most important trade corridor.

 The proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2. Source: Port of Vancouver.

The port intends to fund the construction bill for Roberts Bank Terminal 2 through private investment and long-term leases of port facilities, as well as operator fees.

Construction will require filling in 177 hectares of Roberts Bank, generating some 18,000 construction jobs over a six-year timeline. The terminal will create an additional 1,500 jobs at the facility itself and 15,800 related off-terminal positions.

Opposition

While viewed as critical for trade expansion, the land in question houses sensitive habitats in an intertidal zone with shorebirds, migrating birds, chinook salmon, orcas and Dungeness crab. The project may also interfere with the cultural practices of the Tsawwassen, Musqueam, Pacheedaht and Ditidaht First Nations.

Orca whales photographed from Vancouver Island. Source: David Hutchison and Wirestock.

Opposing parties have also pointed to the questionable need for extra port capacity, citing recent figures by John McCown for West Coast ports on transpacific trade routes, which indicate that inbound traffic is down by 32.2 per cent YoY in March. This marks the sixth-straight month of double-digit declines for West Coast ports, catalyzed by transpacific cargo’s ongoing migration to more competitive ports in Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada, in turn, views the terminal as a threat to employment, given the project’s intention to introduce automated container handling systems.

Mitigation

To minimize the terminal’s environmental impact, the government’s approval includes 370 conditions, 100 of which are designed to protect wildlife, such as a new habitat for western sandpipers, infrastructure for the safe passage of fish, and the monitoring of underwater noise levels. The government will also spend $45 million to ensure compliance with Indigenous rights, while the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority will invest $150 million to guarantee project compliance over the first three years.

From the recently completed construction on the Centerm container terminal, part of the Centerm Expansion Project and South Shore Access Project at Port of Vancouver. Source: Port of Vancouver.

Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra addressed automation concerns by stating that, “when done right, automation helps create jobs and improve productivity at the same time, which are key to ensuring our supply chain remains strong.”

Despite widespread and valid concerns, Port Authority President and CEO, Robin Silvester, believes the expansion will “bolster our national supply-chain resilience and deliver generational economic benefits for Canadians” amid an expected increase in transpacific trade over the next decade. 

Roberts Bank Terminal 2 will need to secure additional permits and regulatory approvals before breaking ground.

Investment implications

The expansion of the Port of Vancouver may lead to lower shipping costs thanks to increased volume, generating shareholder value for public issuers – such as Vancouver-based coal giant, Teck Resources – active in international markets.

From an international perspective, the added capacity may also make the port a more attractive location to do business, increasing the potential for collaborations with Canadian West Coast companies dealing in strategic products or distribution networks.

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