The chief medical health officers for both Lower Mainland health authorities want a say in Port Metro Vancouver's expansion plans.
In a joint letter last month to port authority president and CEO Robin Silvester, made public this week, Paul Van Buynder of the Fraser Health Authority and Vancouver Coastal Health's Patricia Daly asked for "a formal voice" in a number of projects that would expand capacity.
Those projects are either underway or being reviewed.
The medical health officers cited a number of reasons for more direct involvement, including issues such as air emissions and noise.
"We expect the level of Health Authority involvement in the PMV planning and project review processes to vary, depending on the scope of the planning exercise or the proposed project. For small projects that are likely to have minimal health impact, we expect our involvement to be similarly minimal. We anticipate our involvement to be more extensive for long term land use planning or large projects," they wrote.
Van Buynder and Daly suggested that a promising tool for reviewing large projects and long-term plans is a Health Impact Assessment (HIA).
"HIA is a process that brings together stakeholders including the public to consider both the positive and negative health impacts of a proposal from the perspective of all participants, and make recommendations based on all the factors that may influence health arising from the proposal," they said.
The two suggested greater involvement in the port's land use update, which is in the second phase of consultation, as well as a controversial proposal by Surrey Fraser Docks.
Numerous groups have joined forces in protest over the proposal by Fraser Surrey Docks to redevelop its site to accommodate coal shipments that would be brought by train from the United States. The coal would be put on barges and towed to Texada Island, where it would be stored before being loaded on freighters.
The two projects could increase the port's coal capacity by up to 18 million tonnes to a total as high as 53 million tonnes annually.
The B.C. Lung Association, the Public Health Association of B.C., the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and others have written to the port asking for a delay
In an open letter, Silvester wrote the port upholds the highest standards of safety, planning and environmental reviews, and strives to "ensure that new developments and capacity expansions, driven by demand, meet applicable standards and minimize environmental and community impacts related to the handling and movement of goods."
He noted the Fraser Surrey Docks and Neptune Terminals' applications are currently under review, and that permits will not be issued for either until all the required technical reviews and municipal, First Nations and community consultation are complete.
A delegation from the port authority will make a presentation to Delta council in the next few weeks to explain the coal expansion proposal.
The port authority's new land use plan, meanwhile, could end up having major implications for Delta, where the port's other expansion plans include building another container terminal (Terminal 2) at Roberts Bank.
Consultations are already underway on that project.
South Delta is also home to the Westshore Terminals' coal port, where operations have been significantly impacted after a ship damaged one of the terminal's two berths last month.