Canada’s new federal Impact Assessment Act directs a number of fundamental new requirements for project impact assessments. These changes include, amongst others, a more comprehensive assessment and management of a project’s social, economic, and health and well-being effects and benefits. There is also a requirement for early, inclusive and meaningful Indigenous engagement, to support greater understanding of a proposed project’s impacts to Indigenous people and their rights. These new requirements for project impact assessments will have a bearing on impact assessments for major projects across the country.
The socio-economic impact assessment completed by WSP*, as part of the environmental assessment for a proposed new container ship terminal in British Columbia, Canada, showcases the requirements of the new federal Impact Assessment Act, even though the project’s environmental assessment was completed prior to the legislation coming into force.
Engagement with Indigenous Groups a key part of the new Act
The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (VFPA) engaged WSP* to conduct the regulated socio-economic assessment for the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project Federal Environmental Impact Statement. The project is a proposed new three berth marine container terminal located in Greater Vancouver on Canada’s west coast, and in the traditional territory of several Indigenous groups. The project is aimed to support Canada’s trade plans and objectives through to mid-to-late 2030.
The team held workshops with Indigenous groups during the early stages of the project to define social, economic and health and well-being values of importance to communities, for consideration in the socio-economic impact assessment.
A number of Indigenous communities expressed interest in developing their communities’ capacity to carry out data collection and analysis, with regards to demographic, economic and community health and well-being. This capacity helped support meaningful engagement on the Project by their communities, and community and economic development planning more broadly.
In response to that, and to support data collection for socio-economic baseline analysis and the project impact assessment, WSP* adhered to community specific research protocols and worked with Indigenous communities to develop and implement socio-economic data collection training programs for community members. Trained Indigenous researchers worked with WSP* to gather socio-economic data and Indigenous knowledge, prepare socio-economic baseline profiles for their communities, and identify community concerns regarding project impacts.
Communities identified the importance of their members accessing higher skilled and longer-term jobs and contracting opportunities, in support of their community’s sustainable economic development objectives. WSP* worked with VFPA to develop concepts for an Indigenous Training, Employment and Procurement Plan for the Project in a way that supports Project employment and procurement requirements, while also addressing community development needs and priorities.
Understanding the economic impact of the Project
WSP* also looked at the potential impacts the project would have on aquatic resources.
The waters where the proposed terminal is located are an important commercial and Indigenous Dungeness crab harvesting area. Harvested crab from the Roberts Bank area support both the local and international commercial Dungeness crab economy, and crab for Indigenous peoples’ domestic, food, social and ceremonial purposes.
The Project is proposing an expansion to an existing navigational closure for commercial crab harvesting at Robert Bank to support navigational safety with the new terminal. WSP* worked with a local crab fisher association and Indigenous groups to analyze electronic monitoring (GPS) data on crab vessel harvest locations and trap hauls, to further understand trends in harvesting location and effort, and potential Project impacts on crab harvesting. WSP* and the VFPA consulted with commercial and Indigenous crab harvesters and to communicate results of this data analysis and discuss mitigation measures.
In support of ongoing engagement, WSP* worked with VFPA to delineate a program for annual review of crab harvest landing and electronic monitoring data, to identify potential changes to commercial crab harvesting activity during Project construction and operations, and support identification of further mitigation.
The Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project is an example of how WSP* supports clients as they navigate evolving federally regulated socio-economic impact assessment and social management planning requirements. This important work requires meaningful collaboration with Indigenous groups and Indigenous governments during early planning to identify key issues of concern including potential impacts on rights. This work also requires integrated and robust science, as well as evidence and Indigenous knowledge to identify potential project impacts. Having this information in place reinforces assessment results, proposed mitigation and benefit enhancement measures, and provides the necessary information to regulatory agencies to enable the evaluation of a project’s impact on Indigenous rights and people. At the foundation of this entire approach is the principle that projects should ultimately support longer-term Indigenous and local community sustainable development.
* This work was performed by Golder professionals who joined WSP in an acquisition completed in 2021.