Financial difficulties, an in-depth assessment by Environment Canada and a newly filed warrant to seize the HMCS Annapolis could spell the end of the Artificial Reef Society of B.C.'s (ARSBC) plan to sink the war ship in Halkett Bay.
The ARSBC was set to sink the 115-metre destroyer to create an artificial reef in Halkett Bay (off the southeastern shore of Gambier Island) last fall but a final inspection from Environment Canada held up the process.
Howard Robins, president of the ARSBC, said all the other approvals are in place but noted the Environment Canada inspection is taking longer than expected.
Environment Canada is currently testing the insulation onboard the HMCS Annapolis for PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), a practice that wasn't necessary when the ARSBC started stripping the vessel years ago, he said.
The project started in 2009.
Robins said volunteers have spent about 20,000 hours stripping the ship of possible hazards and prepping it for sinking over the years, but the insulation was never removed.
"Under the current standards, there's no requirement to remove insulation," he said.
After concerns of PCB leakage from the ship to the surrounding marine ecosystem was posed by a citizens' group called Save Halkett Bay, Environment Canada made the decision to test the insulation.
"As in all our previous projects, it is up to the government to set the standards for environmental clean up. We simply follow the standards to make sure we pass them," Robins said of the new development.
While the ARSBC awaits the results of the Environment Canada testing, they have another issue to address- -a lawsuit filed by Wesley Roots of WR Marine Services that contends the ARSBC owes the marine contractor a minimum of $95,240. In the court documents, Roots says the money is owed to him for services rendered and for moorage fees paid for the HMCS Annapolis, which has been sitting at the Port Graves moorage site on Gambier Island since June of 2008.
Roots filed his lawsuit in federal court on April 23, asking for a "warrant to arrest the defendant ship Annapolis." However, he said that if the ship could be sunk elsewhere and a management plan to do so could be provided, he would drop the lawsuit.
When asked, Robins refused to comment on the court proceeding.
Even if the HMCS Annapolis is found to be PCB free and a plan to sink the ship elsewhere could be drafted, the ARSBC is running out of finances for a sinking, Save Halkett Bay member Andrew Strang told Coast Reporter.
"The information that's come out through the lawsuit is a vindication that firstly the ARSBC is essentially an organization that is deeply, deeply in debt and it really does throw into question how an organization like this can give any assurance to British Columbians that they're going to monitor this, that they have the funds or the resources if anything were to go awry," Strang said.
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