In July 2014, local chambers of commerce and boards of trade released “The Economic Importance of the Lower Fraser River.” In addition to identifying economic indicators and threats to future sustainability, the report highlighted the need for a multi-stakeholder coalition to develop an integrated, long-term action plan that would sustain and enhance the benefits of the Fraser River. Recognizing the importance of a strong industry voice at the table, companies like Fraser Surrey Docks, FortisBC, Fraser River Pile & Dredge and Seaspan Ferries to mention just a few, were quick to respond.
With the establishment of the Fraser River Industrial Association (FRIA), industry has been proactive in its efforts to advocate for all levels of government, First Nations and stakeholders to come together to discuss and align on benefits, impacts and strategies to ensure growth, prosperity and sustainability for all users. According to Jeff Scott, Chair of FRIA and President & CEO of Fraser Surrey Docks, the initiative is starting to pay off in terms of identifying priority issues and raising awareness about the significance of the Lower Fraser River (LFR).
As the longest river in B.C., the Fraser spans 1,375 kilometres — from the headwaters of the Pacific slope of the continental divide in the Rocky Mountains to the Salish Sea. The Lower Fraser stretches from the mouth of the Fraser to the beginning of the Fraser Canyon (at Hope) with about 300,000 people living in the flood plain of the LFR alone (that number jumps to just under three million — or two-thirds of B.C.’s population living in the Fraser Basin).
The Port of Vancouver’s 2016 Economic Impact Study revealed that the Fraser River and the North Fraser River accounted for just over $5.6 billion of Canada’s Gross Domestic Product and generated $12 billion in economic output. In addition, the region represents the largest share (44 per cent) of direct jobs at the Port of Vancouver and supports 55,500 jobs with $3.4 billion in wages. Overall, economic activity along the entire Fraser River is worth $189.6 billion.
As noted in the 2014 report, and reinforced by subsequent statistics, the LFR is comparable in size and economic impact to that of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Measurables such as cargo, jobs, wages and economic output all fall within a close margin and reflect similarities in importance to surrounding regions. Indeed, prior to the amalgamation of the Fraser, North Fraser and Vancouver ports in 2008, the Fraser River Port Authority was the third largest port in Canada based on domestic, export and import tonnage.
The economic strength of the Fraser River is only part of the story. Industry has grown up over the last 200 years around a diversity of plant and animal life, including seven salmon species and the world-renown Fraser River White Sturgeon, the largest and longest-lived species of freshwater fish in North America. Further, the uses and activities in-river and on-shore reflect a wide variety of stakeholders and user groups — activities like recreational boating and sport fishing, commercial fishing and shipping, and transportation (including barges and ferries) share use of the river while industry, residential developments, agriculture and parks and beaches line the foreshore. As one of the largest estuaries in North America, the LFR sees about 20 million tonnes of sediment per year.
As noted previously, “The Economic Importance of the Lower Fraser River” recommended that a collaborative regional strategy be developed to ensure a holistic management of the entire LFR and adjacent lands. While the report called on the federal, provincial, regional and municipal governments to act immediately, it is the founding members of the Fraser River Industrial Association who have been quick to recognize the value of engaging with all stakeholders to develop such a strategy.
Serving as a forum for the exchange of industry news and information, FRIA has become the voice of industry and has set the following goals:
Raise awareness of the importance and significant economic contributions of this vital transportation artery.
Contribute to the creation of a collaborative and comprehensive strategy for long-term economic prosperity and environmental sustainability.
Advocate for the preservation and/or expansion of industrial activities in key areas along the LFR.
Engage in dialogue with governments and all stakeholder groups to improve economic opportunities and to act as a sounding board to test theory, policy and concepts.
Develop sustainable and environmentally responsible strategies to support growth in the context of a healthy and vibrant river.
Have a voice in the development of a navigation management strategy that meets the needs of all stakeholder groups.
Contribute to a responsible and efficient transportation strategy for the region.
While it’s early days still for the new association, Scott noted that FRIA is making good progress in raising awareness about the significance of the Fraser River and the need for all levels of government, First Nations and stakeholders to come together. “Over the past two years, we have been focused on identifying the key areas of concerns for our members and developing priorities and action plans to address these,” he said. “In September of last year, we shared our positions on eight key priority issues and have initiated further engagement to share our thoughts, ideas and obtain perspectives.”
Scott noted that to date, FRIA has only been able to introduce the need for a single comprehensive plan and although it was met with positive support, there have not been any discussions towards developing a framework. “This will be one of our key focus areas for 2018,” he added.
While recognizing that it’s no easy task to bring together 15 municipal governments, 29 First Nations, more than 20 Provincial and Federal ministries and countless private and public stakeholders like environmental groups, recreational users, railways, port authorities and labour unions, FRIA is taking steps to engage the various groups through a number of venues and vehicles. “We launched our website at www.FRIA.ca at the beginning of last year and the feedback has been exceptional,” Scott said, further noting that visitors have been commenting on its comprehensiveness and success in compiling information on a variety of Fraser River-related topics in one place. “We have tried to ensure that we have captured the importance of the Fraser River from an economic, environmental and community perspective. We will keep adding components to the website to continue to tell a more comprehensive story and bolster information through studies, reports and relevant links.”
Scott also pointed out that outreach activities have included regularly invited guest speakers to FRIA meetings to share topics of related impact and importance. “This is a great opportunity for our members and guests to share and explore opportunities for alignment. Over the past year, we have received presentations from the Cowichan Nation Alliance, Musqueam Indian Band and Tsawwassen First Nations. We have also had presentations from Translink, the Ministry of Transport, the Gateway Transportation Collaboration Forum, the Port of Vancouver and the Chamber of Shipping. And we have broadened our understanding with presentations from the Fraser Basin Council, Pacific Salmon Foundation, Fraser River Discovery Centre and Clear Seas Centre for Responsible Marine Shipping.”
If that’s not enough, FRIA also organized a joint working session with 11 different boards of trades and chambers of commerce to share strategies and identify common areas of interest. They have also met with all levels of government. Further sessions are planned for this year and Scott indicated that one of their goals for 2018 will be to increase focus on engaging the federal government.
Finally, FRIA continues to sponsor various community events to raise their profile and have been invited to introduce the association at various speaking engagements.
In the early days of establishing FRIA, members identified eight strategic priorities to guide association activities:
As evidenced above, FRIA is committed to creating and preserving a collaborative engagement process that builds understanding, support and alignment with critical stakeholders, communities, governments, commercial enterprises and First Nations who have an interest in the LFR.
By creating awareness, understanding and alignment of the significant economic importance of the LFR through consistent and meaningful engagement and connecting with stakeholders through a series of mediums to promote dialogue and communication, FRIA is looking to strengthen industry’s voice, build understanding and alignment, and promote ongoing and safe operations. As part of this strategic priority, FRIA’s goal is to build awareness and support that bolsters industries’ ability to gain infrastructure funding from the government.
FRIA supports the more efficient use of industrial lands around the LFR, and is an advocate for the sustainable expansion of these lands in line with regional growth initiatives. Working with First Nations, government, stakeholders and communities to ensure that the use and availability of existing industrial land is protected and maintained, FRIA has set a priority of seeking out opportunities to grow the industrial land base where appropriate and support an industrial land banking strategy.
FRIA advocates for fee levels and structures that encourage investment and ensure the ongoing competitiveness of businesses that operate on the Lower Fraser River. As part of this vision, FRIA believes the LFR can be a world-class port that provides regionally, nationally and globally competitive cost, productivity and fluidity alternatives to customers in a way that is well aligned and integrated with all stakeholders and other user groups.
FRIA recognizes and respects the unique ecosystems and biodiversity of the LFR and supports the implementation of programs, policies and procedures that protect people, wildlife and habitats.
FRIA’s goal for this priority is to see the LFR take a global leading approach to maintaining an economically significant transportation artery that effectively understands and balances the needs of all stakeholders while always considering the environment, culture and economy.
FRIA supports regulatory changes to protect and optimize use of the LFR, including navigation safety enhancement, dredging, dike protection, debris reduction and protection of the environment.
For this priority, FRIA sees the LFR as a world-class waterway that supports industry and trade in a safe and sustainable way, while maintaining and improving the interests of existing stakeholders and traditional users.
Marine and public safety
FRIA is committed to safe commercial activity along the LFR and has set the goal of building a robust safety culture beyond the regulations amongst commercial vessel operators, across all fleets, through the implementation of consistent safety practices by all service providers and clients.
Land transportation access and congestion
FRIA promotes fluidity and efficient access to commercial and industrial lands, and therefore seeks to be consulted to provide guidance in any planning process that contemplates a change to rail or road infrastructure or capacity along the LFR. “Industry along the Lower Fraser River believes that the implementation of effective transportation strategies can only be achieved through a joint Lower Mainland Transportation Committee with representation from industry, First Nations, government, stakeholders and community,” noted Scott.
Streamlined regulatory processes
FRIA advocates for a streamlined and coordinated regulatory framework that would promote efficient permitting for industrial activities in and along the LFR. As part of its vision, FRIA sees industry working with all regulators and levels of government to ensure that expansion and enhancement projects follow a rigid and stringent set of guidelines that properly evaluates potential impacts and identifies necessary mitigation requirements within timelines that do not jeopardize the success of the projects.
When asked to evaluate progress in moving FRIA’s agenda ahead, Scott noted that stakeholder engagement had resulted in positive steps forward. “Most people are willing to talk about the Fraser River and agree on the significance of its importance,” he said. “We have recently made progress on the completion of some navigational enhancements and aligned on infrastructure priorities.”
While all eight of the strategies listed above remain a priority for FRIA members, Scott indicated that they are in the process of determining the top three to five action items that require immediate focus. “We hope to share these in the next couple of months,” he said. “In the meantime, we keep current on issues of importance and have recently submitted letters supporting positions on things like Marine Risk Assessment and the new infrastructure fund.”
Scott said that the association is tracking infrastructure plans very closely. “We want to make sure access and fluidity is being continually advanced to the benefit of all stakeholders, including rail network capacity.” He went on to say that “we are concerned about the loss of industrial lands in and around the Fraser River and will continue to promote and advocate for their preservation and efficient use.
“We are also monitoring navigation changes very closely and will continue to advocate for enhanced channel capabilities, including work to improve the permit process for dredging under the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations on areas recently returned to Provincial jurisdiction.”
Other concerns and issues — such as increased fees and lease costs that could make them uncompetitive or the opportunities and promise of short sea shipping — are also on the radar of FRIA members. “We promote initiatives for enabling short sea shipping including incentive programs to assist in their start up and we continue to work hard to better understand ways to improve the sustainability and safety of the river.”
When asked about the association’s position on the Provincial Government’s delay in replacing the Massey Tunnel, Scott said: “We have not taken a formal position on the delay or the bridge yet, however we are disappointed in government’s ability to stick with a plan. We believe there were comprehensive studies, significant analysis, good community consultation and the plan was well thought out and vetted. It remains unclear as to why the project is not moving forward. We support infrastructure improvements that enable the more efficient movement of goods and people and feel the tunnel, in its current state and condition, is creating bottlenecks and congestion that are negatively impacting our members. However, our members will continue to look at ways to fully leverage the opportunities along the Fraser River with or without the George Massey Tunnel in place.”
Call to action
Overall, Scott was pleased with the progress that the new association has been making but recognized there was still much to do, including building up the association’s membership roster. Current membership includes: Catalyst Paper, Coast 2000 Terminals, Fortis BC, Fraser River Pile and Dredge, Fraser Surrey Docks, Seaspan Ferries, SRY Rail Link, Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities, Westpac Midstream and WWL Vehicle Services.
With 10 of the largest operations on the LFR already signed on, Scott sees great opportunities to build on that number and strengthen the voice of FRIA. “As a unified, non-partisan voice for businesses and industries operating in and along the Lower Fraser River, we feel that FRIA has set a foundation that can only get stronger.”