Environmental assessment finds Roberts Bank project will impact endangered orcas

The panel responsible for the environmental assessment of the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 (RBT2) project publicly released their recommendations earlier today, which conclude that the development will result in a “significant adverse effect” on endangered Southern Resident orcas and several other at-risk marine species. The report also concludes that the proposed development has the “potential to change various aspects of Indigenous current use and cultural heritage resources”. These conclusions echo what we heard when the National Energy Board made its recommendations on the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline.

Roberts Bank Terminal 2

The proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2.

If approved, this project would see a three-berth container terminal added to the current port infrastructure in Delta, B.C. at a cost of $2 billion. The development is predicted to increase the number of container shipments to the terminal by 50 percent, also increasing greenhouse gas emissions at a time when strong measures are needed to combat the global climate crisis. The proposed footprint for the project extends into habitat critical for many species in the region, including the Southern Residents, wild Pacific salmon and migrating birds.

Intentional or unintentional chemical discharges from human activities like shipping contaminate the surrounding habitat, poisoning salmon stocks that Southern Residents orcas rely on for food. Because of toxins in the Salish Sea, the Southern Residents are facing devastating reproductive impairment and developmental issues, placing the population at risk of extinction. This project would be one more threat to their survival.

The environmental assessment panel has clearly stated that the Salish Sea and its inhabitants will be negatively impacted by the RBT2 project. It is now up to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Jonathan Wilkinson, to determine if the impacts are significant. If so, the decision about whether to approve the development will be moved to the federal ministry (Cabinet). For approval of the project to be denied, Cabinet must value the permanent loss of marine life and their habitat more than any perceived benefit to the shipping industry.

While this report offers recognition of many of the concerns raised by GSA and our allies, via joint representation by Ecojustice, the RBT2 project cannot proceed when it is clear it will be one more pressure point on an orca population on the edge of extinction. The reality is that even if all the panel’s recommendations are met and the development proceeds, the Salish Sea will see the destruction of an area vital to the health of the region – and the potential loss of a iconic and important population.

The report can be viewed here, in both English and French.

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