British Columbia·New

B.C. forms task force for tsunami debris cleanup

B.C.'s environment minister is touring remote coastal communities in Haida Gwaii today to hash out how best to deal with debris that has washed ashore from last year's Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Environment minister tours Haida Gwaii but says 'premature' to earmark cleanup funds

B.C.'s environment minister is touring remote coastal communities in Haida Gwaii today to hash out how best to deal with debris that has washed ashore from last year's Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Under pressure from critics who have urged the government to act more quickly to address the incoming wave of floating garbage, environment minister Terry Lake will meet today for the first time with First Nations and community leaders to discuss a debris management plan.

Lake said the province has now formed a task force with the federal government to devise a cleanup strategy, adding that a primary reason for his visit was to provide a first-hand account to build a case for funding allocations.

"There's been a lot of concern about the extent of the problem, and there has been some accounts that would indicate the extent of the problem is getting to be quite bad," Lake said.

Since April, when a Harley-Davidson motorcycle was reported as among several pieces of foreign debris found buried in the beach, residents have been picking up the Japanese debris on their own.

But Andrew Merlees, mayor of the village of Masset, said his community can only deal with so much.

'A lot of catch-up to do'

"If the main part of the debris field hits Haida Gwaii, or anywhere on Haida Gwaii, our landfill is not equipped to handle that, so we need support in that regard," he said.

Lake acknowledged the mayor's concerns and said he would be discussing a contingency plan "if we need to move the debris off the island."

A Harley-Davidson motorcycle washed up in Haida Gwaii and was found on its side in the back of a moving truck container from Japan. (Submitted by Peter Mark)

NDP environment critic Rob Fleming has been vocal about his disappointment with the government's approach to the problem, characterizing it as a wait-and-see response.

"The debris is happening now, and plans are not in place to deal with it," he said. "A lot more is going to arrive later, so I think B.C. has a lot of catch-up to do."

While authorities south of the border in Washington state and Oregon have already allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars for cleanup efforts, no such funding commitments have been announced by B.C.

"At this stage, we don't know the extent of the problem," Lake said. "So it would be premature to earmark a certain amount of money. We are at the fact-gathering stage at this time, that's why i'm here."

The bulk of the tsunami debris is expected to arrive in 2013, though some residents have already expressed concern that the trash has begun arriving sooner than expected.

With files from CBC's Justine Ma