Project permit process

What is the port authority’s process for reviewing project permit applications?

Vancouver Fraser Port Authority is responsible for the administration, management and control of land and water within our jurisdiction. Since 1992, part of that responsibility has been conducting reviews of works or projects proposed for port lands. Our role is to ensure that proposed works and activities within our jurisdiction are carefully considered before we determine if they should proceed. This authority is derived through the Canada Marine Act and the Impact Assessment Act. Proposals must also be compatible with our Land Use Plan and Letters Patent.

The review process has stringent requirements and each application is carefully considered and rigorously reviewed on its merits and impacts on local communities and the environment. Applications are generally pre-screened and our experts work closely with proponents to ensure their applications are thorough, complete and evidence-based.

Our consideration of project permit applications include technical and environmental reviews and any required municipal, stakeholder and community engagement and Indigenous consultation. The community is encouraged to participate in the engagement process initiated through the review of certain proposed projects.

Approved projects are typically subject to conditions, depending on the project. The conditions, which often are related to environmental mitigation, must be met according to our review.

The specifics of each review depend on the nature of the proposed works or projects. Applications are initially divided into four categories of review labeled A, B, C and D. The lettered categories range in complexity with category A being the least complex and category D being the most complex. Category A projects are smaller in scale and may be temporary in nature with no consultation anticipated. Category D projects are larger more complex in scale and usually require a variety of supporting technical studies and consultation processes.

In 2013, we conducted a thorough review of our Project and Environmental Review process. Our goal was to assess our process and seek ways to improve clarity, efficiency, transparency, accountability, consistency and responsiveness.

The review was conducted by independent consultants and co-led by the former head of the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office. Their conclusion was that, while our process resulted in sound and robust decisions, some areas could be improved. After two years of hard work and collaboration between internal and external stakeholders, the review process was updated and put into effect in July 2015. The enhanced process improves transparency and predictability for both project proponents and other stakeholders, including the public.

The matter of independence in the review is a reasonable concern. Critically, can port authorities ensure the integrity of an environmental review given two possible proponents: a tenant that is, or will be, paying lease revenue to the port authority, or the port authority itself?

Our process is not unlike that of other self-regulating bodies, such as municipalities that approve development projects for which they will earn fees and taxes.

Canada Port Authorities earn revenues from leases and fees, but they are not profit-centric in the typical sense and are not focused on earning additional lease revenue for the sake of profit-taking. They must be self-sustaining and pay an annual stipend to the federal government. Revenues must cover expenses as well as generate funds to be invested in common-use port infrastructure, such as roadways. Additionally, ports must be competitive for terminals to attract shippers. The supply chain runs on reliability and cost, therefore, port authorities must control costs and help ensure terminals can operate efficiently and keep their shipping rates competitive. If cargo goes elsewhere, Canada loses out on economic activity.

Though it happens rarely, a port authority can be a project proponent when there are circumstances where the economics of a particular project are such that a terminal operator or tenant would never propose it, even though it is in the best interests of the gateway and national trade. The most common example is in the container terminal sector where the creation of the terminal footprint – federal land managed by the port authority – is necessary to accommodate growth. At the Port of Vancouver, projects include Deltaport, Canada’s largest container terminal, the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project and the Centerm container terminal expansion. These projects involve the establishment of new federal lands that are leased to terminal operators who are then proponents for projects to build operating infrastructure (such as cranes and rail lines) on those lands.

Vancouver Fraser Port Authority takes its legal mandate to ensure environmental protection extremely seriously, but public confidence requires demonstrable proof that reviews are sound. Our aim is to earn public trust in our environmental review process by ensuring robust, transparent project and environmental reviews with appropriate public consultation.

Project and Environmental Review Process