|Central Coast diesel spill response slow, ineffective, serious damage done: Heiltsuk||990 readings|
|Posted by Joan Russow|
|Monday, 17 October 2016 19:05|
Posted October 17, 2016 by Damien Gillis in Energy and Resources
The Nathan E. Stewart fuel barge and part-sunken tug the morning of the incident (Jordan Wilson/Pacific Wild)
Judging by official statements in the aftermath of the ongoing Central Coast diesel fuel spill the response to the disaster was relatively effective and damage minimized – a PR line largely soaked up by the mainstream media. To the people in whose territory the incident occurred, the Heiltsuk Nation, and local residents who will have to live with the consequences of the spill, nothing could be further from the truth.
“Recent press seems to suggest that containment efforts have been successful. Let me set the record straight: containment has not been successful, and clean-up efforts have barely begun,” says Heiltsuk On-Scene Commander William Housty. “The damage has been done, and the best we can work towards is mitigation.”
A Heiltsuk media statement this morning drives the point home in measurable terms:
Only 6,554 gallons of the 59,924 gallons of diesel onboard the tug were able to be pumped from the vessel before it sank in Heiltsuk Territory on the morning of October 13th. Since then, the sunken vessel has been leaking diesel into an area of enormous ecological, economic, and cultural significance to the Heiltsuk Nation.
Diesel fuel slick in Gale Pass (Megan Humchitt)
The spill occurred just outside Gale Pass – an important shellfish harvesting site for the Heiltsuk peoples – along with herring spawn on kelp and other fisheries. PR people for the cleanup company, Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC), and the company that owns the fuel barge whose tug ran aground and leaked all this fuel, Texas-based Kirby Corporation, have insisted that the contents of the tug, marine diesel, easily dissipate and evaporate, downplaying contamination concerns. If this were the case, then why was Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) compelled to shut down shellfish harvesting for 11 sub-areas around the spill on Friday via an “emergency chemical contaminant closure”?
These PR people have also been quick to counter early concerns about slow response time to the spill. But here are a few key points to consider:
Long after the incident command is dismantled and the media loses interest in the story, the Heiltsuk and central coast residents will still be dealing with the consequences of this spill.
Heiltsuk responders (Megan Humchitt)
“The Heiltsuk are heartbroken and angry over this environmental disaster. We don’t know how many years or decades it will be before we are able to harvest in these waters again,” said Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett.
“Yet our community members are heroic. The overwhelming majority of vessels out on the water are Heiltsuk volunteer crews. Our community members are doing their best to assist with response efforts, but have not been receiving adequate direction or training from the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation in charge of the clean up.”
Bear in mind that despite these serious impacts to shellfish grounds and other natural resources, matters could have been much, much worse, had the fuel barge the tug was towing been full instead of making its return trip from Alaska to a southern port for refuelling.
This is why the Heiltsuk are calling for this incident to spur a long-discussed north coast tanker banwhich the Trudeau government has yet to act upon. “We must take note, however, that tanker barges like this might not even be included in the ban. The ban needs to be complete, and spill response must be improved,” a recent statement noted.
In contemplating this ban, the Trudeau government would do well to ask itself: why does such a vessel need to take the inside passage? Why not direct it further west on the outer coast, avoiding the myriad navigational hazards, communities and sensitive ecological areas of the inner coast?
|Last Updated on Friday, 28 October 2016 21:57|