Praying for marine safety, lobbying for better oil response

Vancouver has unique abilities to help in the event of an oil-spill cleanup but a shuttered Kitsilano Coast Guard station and lack of communication from senior response agencies isn't helping

oil spill, Georgia Strait Alliance, National Energy Board, SPARC, Kinder Morgan
Praying for safety in risky marine times: Vancouver Holy Rosary Cathedral's Father John Eason blessed the False Creek fishing fleet last Saturday before a sailpast to the closed Kitsilano Coast Guard station.

The bunker-fuel spill that drove away beach-goers and affected marine life revealed that Vancouver and other coastal-area governments must be part of the clean-up response.

Yet their hands are tied unless communication from senior spill response agencies improves.

That is the major finding of a new report released by Georgia Strait Alliance, one of the intervenors in the National Energy Board's review of Kinder Morgan's proposed pipeline-expansion project.

GSA contracted the Social Planning and Research Council of British Columbia (SPARC BC) to prepare the report that assesses the marine oil spill preparedness, response, and recovery capability of coastal local governments in the Georgia Strait region.

The spill in English Bay proves that it is false to assume that local governments are not involved with marine oil spills, said GSA executive director Christianne Wilhelmson in a press release.

 “In reality, the consequences of an oil spill are felt locally, and local governments have unique strengths to offer to protect their communities and the environment," says Wilhelmson. “Senior response partners need to ensure that local governments have a seat at the table, and the necessary resources in place to effectively play their part.”

Key findings from the report include:

  •  Local governments have important roles to play in a marine oil spill, including communicating to the public about health and safety, coordinating evacuations, closing beaches and other infrastructure, and identifying sensitive areas for priority protection.
  • All but one of the local governments who participated in the research reported limited preparedness, or complete non-preparedness, in the event of a marine oil spill.
  • Local governments are challenged by poor communication from senior spill response partners, a lack of clear and detailed plans outlining the roles and responsibilities of all the agencies involved in spill response, and a lack of capacity and financial resources to respond to the consequences of a spill in their community.

The report makes recommendations to all levels of government to strengthen marine oil spill response in the region, including:

  • Oil spill response plans should be publicly available in BC, much like they are in Seattle and San Francisco.
  • Senior response partners should improve their communication and engagement with local governments regarding marine oil spill planning and training in the Georgia Strait region. They must ensure that funding is not a barrier to local government participation in marine oil spill planning and training exercises.
  • The roles and responsibilities of all the involved parties should be clearly documented. Local governments in the Georgia Strait region should ensure that their emergency response plan addresses marine oil spills and that the plans provide operational detail about all the types of activities the local government will engage in.

The Georgia Strait Alliance is leading a full-day community workshop on Saturday, June 6, at James Community Hall, 3214 West 10th Ave. Exxon Valdez survivor and internationally renowned oil spill expert, Dr. Riki Ott will be leading. More info at www.georgiastrait.org. 

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