Response time lacking

Editorial

Three days — that is how long it could take for clean-up crews to respond in the event of a major oil spill in our local waters.

Directors from the Sunshine Coast Regional District heard this grim news from emergency preparation coordinator Bill Elsner last week as Sunshine Coast politicians began to lobby and talk about spill responses in the wake of the April 8 bunker fuel spill in English Bay in which an estimated 2,700 litres of the highly toxic substance spilled into the water.

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Since the spill, reactions from politicians, environmental groups and average citizens have been mixed, with most quick to point out that the response time of clean-up crews was simply not good enough.

At the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities (AVICC) convention in Courtenay last week, the District of Sechelt put forward a motion calling on the provincial government to order an independent audit of the current state of oil spill preparedness. It passed swiftly through the other municipalities in attendance. Good on the District of Sechelt and specifically Coun. Noel Muller for lobbying and leading the charge on this important issue.

Now we have this news coming out of the SCRD — after discussion and confirming facts with Elsner, directors voted in favour of sending a letter to the federal government demanding that local emergency staff be contacted immediately when an oil spill occurs in local waters and that the government take a serious look at the response time.

And while our governments lobby at the local level, federal NDP fisheries critic Finn Donnelly is pressing the Conservatives to reverse their position on the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. It was reported this week by Lower Mainland media that if the station had been operational, the Coast Guard could have responded to the spill in English Bay in six minutes. In this case a recreational boater noticed the spill around 5 p.m. on April 8, but it took six hours for the Coast Guard to arrive and another seven hours before a private company was on hand to begin the clean-up.

Imagine the damage that could have been prevented had the response time been quicker.

Municipal governments up and down the coast must continue to stand united in this issue, must continue to amp up the pressure on the Conservative government. This was considered a fairly minor spill in English Bay, but the after effects were washing up on beaches some 12 km away for days. And who knows what the long-term effects may be on the water and water life? This should be a wake-up call for all of us.

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