Community information sessions in Delta and Surrey are now reviewing the required Environmental Assessment Application for the SFPR, which is part of the $3-billion Gateway transportation project that's tied to local port expansion, but critics charge they're producing many more questions than answers.
They also say the B.C. government and its bureaucrats are intentionally making this public process as complicated and inconvenient as possible in order to minimize the depths of public scrutiny.
You'll never prove such an allegation, but "fuzzifying" overly-voluminous amounts of information to discourage others from digging too deeply is a gambit well-used by government and business alike. Heck, lawyers do it every day.
No doubt there are some well-meaning bureaucrats involved in this SFPR application, but they've produced an environmental application that totals more than 3,000 pages and then dropped it on the public at the last minute, setting aside just 60 days, from Oct. 19 to Dec. 17, for public comment.
And even after the public comment period began, officials released additional documents -- so now frustrated community groups have asked for a 45-day extension of the commentary period to Jan. 30, 2007.
But the lack of respect for public participation goes back further. In preparing this review process for the 40-kilometre road that would connect an expanded Deltaport to Highway 1 near 176th Street in Surrey, there was virtually no public input into the review's terms of reference.
In fact, the SFPR project has always operated on a top-down, "government-knows-best" basis and the people most impacted in Delta and Surrey -- such as the roughly 200 homeowners who will have their properties expropriated -- have very little power.
Even when concerned citizens honestly attempt to participate, their concerns and ideas are dismissed offhandedly.
A citizen-group proposal to mitigate the divided, four-lane, 80-km/h highway's severe impacts on several neighbourhoods in North Delta and Surrey by constructing a tunnel under the residential area was deemed too expensive by Gateway.
But tunneling experts consulted by the neighbourhood groups dispute Gateway's cost estimates.
This also begs the question: If the SFPR is to be built properly, with a minimum amount of negative impact, might Gateway's $800-million cost estimate simply be unrealistically low?
Another SFPR alternative -- running a truck-only route alongside the rail line from Deltaport to Highway 10 -- has also been dismissed arbitrarily.
Nor have we had full public debate over using the Fraser River as a highway alternative by barging containers off deep-sea ships in port for distribution by trucks further upstream. One barge and tug replaces about 65 transport trucks under this short-sea shipping technique that's widely used in Europe.
What is needed here is a full public hearing in which project proponents, concerned citizens and experts on both sides present their cases and are subsequently subject to cross examination.
This is the case when B.C. Hydro or ICBC wants to raise your power or auto-insurance rates, and a project with the size, scope and impact of the SFPR deserves nothing less.