Despite cries from a citizens’ group to stop the sinking, it looks like the HMCS Annapolis will soon find a home on the ocean floor in Halkett Bay.
It is there, off the south eastern shore of Gambier Island, that the 115-metre destroyer is slated to become a new artificial reef.
The Artificial Reef Society of B.C. (ARSBC) is in charge of the project and in order for it to go forward they need approval from the provincial Ministry of Environment (MOE), Transport Canada, Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
As of press time Thursday, ARSBC had MOE approval as well as Transport Canada’s and they were undergoing an assessment for Environment Canada that was expected to yield positive results.
“I’ve been involved with the discussions with DFO and Transport Canada and Environment Canada. We’ve met as a group on this project and we’re just about there,” said Bob Austad, executive director of regional operations for B.C. Parks. “We’re just doing the final tweaks to the fisheries agreement with DFO authorization and the inspection should be done today [Sept. 19] and hopefully it’s covered off 100 per cent of the deficiencies and we’re ready to go.”
The controversial sinking to create an artificial reef was first pitched in 2009, but it has been stalled for some time while the ARSBC worked with changing government officials and adjusted plans to meet new requirements from the feds.
“Things did change part way through. It wasn’t on the provincial side that it changed because pretty much this is the way we’ve always done it. The federal side with DFO, that’s where the change was because there was a change in the fisheries act,” said Austad, who has been working on the Annapolis file since January, 2011.
“They cancelled the formal Canadian environmental assessment that was going to be done for this project and really all that is required now is that we pursue fisheries act authorization to move forward.”
The change has caused more concern from the citizens’ group Save Halkett Bay, which has been against the project from day one citing negative impacts to the sensitive seabed and surrounding marine life.
This week they forwarded a letter to Minister Terry Lake urging him to follow the U.S. government’s lead and stop the artificial reefing program all together, citing concerns with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).
The name refers to any of 209 specific chemicals that can be found in industrial materials.
The letter pointed to a study released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that showed PCB migration from artificial reefs to the surrounding food chain.
“In light of this new study and the fact that the U.S. Marine administration has taken the dramatic step recently of effectively banning this practice in the United States, we respectfully ask that you halt this imminent sinking of the Annapolis and put a moratorium on the practice of making artificial reefs out of former armed forces vessels until further study,” Andrew Strang wrote on behalf of Save Halkett Bay.
Howard Robins, president of the ARSBC said the Annapolis is PCB free.
“We have a report from the Department of National Defence saying the ship has been PCB free since 2001,” Robbins said.
But Strang doesn’t believe it.
“I would have to see the content of the report because obviously it’s an important issue. My feeling is it’s probably a very old report and I suspect it discusses acceptable levels of PCBs or something like that, which we know has changed radically as we’ve moved forward here,” Strang said. “It used to be that it was acceptable to sink these old ships with the PCB levels and we now know that lesser levels impacts our marine environment so to say that it’s PCB free, I’d be very interested to see what Howard means by that.”
Robins was unable to forward a copy of the report to Coast Reporter by deadline.
Even if the document proves the ship is PCB free, Strang said his group won’t condone the sinking. They believe it will negatively impact the fine-sediment seabed and surrounding area.
Lake is aware of their concerns, but likely won’t change his mind about approving the artificial reef, according to Austad.
“We just have to inform the minister that the ARSBC has the three authorizations as required and we therefore can proceed with the project. He’s on board with proceeding with the project as a result of that,” Austad said.
He noted the Minister has met with the Save Halkett Bay group in the past to discuss their concerns.
“There’s no hidden information or agenda here. The Minister’s been quite forward with them that it will enhance recreational opportunities, which is something the marine park was set aside for, that it will hopefully through the artificial reef generate more marine biodiversity and maybe even restore some of the fin fish species within the local area,” Austad said.
“They (Save Halkett Bay) just don’t agree with the project on a number of fronts and that’s understandable. It’s pretty typical of some of the things that occur on Crown land and in provincial parks.
“It’s pretty unusual that you get 100 per cent of stakeholders all agreeing to something.”