The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority announced today that it has no plans to further deepen the Fraser River to accommodate larger vessels.
According to an emailed statement to media, the port authority recently completed an analysis of the river and its potential to accommodate increasing trade, that considered a variety of possible uses of existing port lands and assessed dredging the river at different depths, both with and without the removal of the George Massey Tunnel.
The port authority’s analysis, completed in 2016, determined that deepening the Fraser River would be extremely costly, requiring extensive environmental study and consultation over many years.
“We have determined that with more intensive use of the port’s existing terminals and further development of the port authority’s existing industrial lands along the water, the Fraser River will be well positioned to accommodate Canada’s growing trade without deepening the channel,” said Peter Xotta, vice president, planning and operations at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.
An information handout accompanying the statement says that the port authority supports the George Massey Tunnel replacement project it will ease traffic congestion from Roberts Bank, but that the project “has no bearing on the port authority’s plans to manage increasing trade on the Fraser River, as the existing tunnel is not constraining the current development potential of the river.”
Opponents of the project have sighted port expansion, including deepening shipping channel in the Fraser River to accommodate larger vessels, as one of the driving factors behind the provincial government’s push to replace the existing tunnel with a 10-lane bridge.
However, the handout says, there are limitations to the river that restrict its ability to accommodate larger ships. For a start, the new bridge will be the same height above the water as the existing Alex Fraser Bridge. Similarly, the width of the river can make it challenging for larger ships to turn.
The port authority currently maintains a 36-kilometre-long deep-sea navigation channel in the south arm of the Fraser River, which is designed to accommodate two-way traffic of vessels that fit within the size restrictions of the channel.
On average, an estimated 2.5 to 3.5 million cubic metres of sediment is deposited annually within the Fraser River deep-sea shipping channel. To safeguard continued navigation and aid in flood prevention, the port authority conducts annual maintenance dredging in the lower reaches of the river.
Dredging increases flow capacity and is a crucial flood protection measure to help keep the river below dyke levels during periods of increased flow. The river begins to rise each year in April, with peak flows usually occurring in June.
The port authority also owns about 200 acres of undeveloped industrial land on the river, which it says is expected to be used in the future by commercial operators for major terminals, warehousing and distribution.