The Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities Conference (AVICC), hosted this year by Ucluelet, was a success on many levels. Mayor Nils Jensen was joined at the conference by Councillors Copley, Green, Herbert, Kirby and Ney and attending workshops and events provided opportunties to learn and connect with one another and with colleagues from all over Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.
Ucluelet, noted for its spectacular setting, rolled out the “green” carpet to welcome hundreds of elected representatives and guests from local, provincial and federal governments and other agencies. The conference theme focused on marine environments and, specifically, on the health of oceans.
One workshop outlined what could happen in the event of a major oil spill on the West Coast (what we we need to do to prepare), given that pipeline giant Kinder Morgan has just announced that it will expand capacity, resulting in about a tenfold increase in oil tanker traffic, from a reported 32 tankers a year to 360 a year (one a day), departing from the Lower Mainland.
Given that most, if not all, BC Coastal communities are on major shipping lanes and scores of local governments and municipalities are expressing their formal objections to pipeline expansion, this workshop was very well attended and offered twice during the conference.
Islands Trust and BC’s Ministry of Environment (MoE) provided information and data that begs the question “Do we have a strong maritime safety net in place?” Here are highlights:
- climate change is impacting sea conditions and safety to shipping and marine traffic
- between 2016 and 2021, container traffic will double and by 2030, it will triple
- a major oil spill on our West Coast will involve oil the consistency of peanut butter and it will sink in about 12 hours, making it impossible to spot from the air
- BC’s oil spill response program is funded at about $2M while Washington State has a response program funded at about $26M (suggested that BC’s state of readiness problematic for Washington State; MoE also cites its own limitations)
- successful spill recovery is estimated at 10%
- MoE concerned about spills regardless of source, with about 3,500 incidents reported each year
- the spiller is primarily responsible for costs and remediation while MoE provides technical expertise, regulatory oversight and direct response activities
- 10 response officers for the entire Province and 4 program preparedness, planning and management staff
- other agencies involved are Transport Canada, Canadian Coast Guard, Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, the spiller, local governments and First Nations, among others
The role of local government involves:
- fulfilling emergency planning
- providing first responders
- protecting local government infrastructure
- enforcing by-laws
- managing consequences (e.g. evacuations, influx of first responders/agencies, etc.)
- participating in incident management
Additional general information was provided about marine spills, including logistics and planning, spill response capability, consequence management and participation in Unified Command. But the general conclusion from these two presentations is that we have significant gaps in our response strategy.
Finally, perhaps the most alarming aspect of this presentation was information that states that Kinder Morgan, as “just a pipleline company,” has no liability for any oil tanker spill on our Coast, despite the fact that their transmission expansion will significantly increase tanker traffic here.