Local government says it will turn to the courts to stop barge recycling business
Barges are dismantled on a sealed asphalt surface and don't contain hazardous materials, says company manager
The board of the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) on Vancouver Island has voted to seek an interim injunction against a company operating in Union Bay, a rural area on the east side of the island.
The board says the company is contravening bylaws as it dismantles barges. The K'ómoks First Nation, and some residents, have expressed concern that hazardous materials could be released as the barges are taken apart.
But the company, Deep Water Recovery, says it is zoned for "industrial marine activity" and that's exactly what it's doing.
"This has been an industrial site for a hundred years," said manager Mark Jurisich. "You can't lay that responsibility on us."
He says the barges are dismantled on land, on a sealed asphalt surface, and that the barges are "basically big square, steel boxes" that don't contain any hazardous materials. He says they have never taken apart any sort of motorized vehicle.
The district confirms the property is zoned for "industrial marine" but that shipbreaking, dismantling or salvaging are not among the listed activities allowed in that zone.
In addition to agreeing to seek an injunction, the CVRD board ruled on Feb. 15 that it "considers shipbreaking a non-permitted use in the Industrial Marine zone."
Because the business is in a rural area not governed by a municipality, there is no requirement for business licenses. That means that when the company bought the property, it didn't need to submit anything for approval.
Late last year, when it discovered the kind of work that was being done, the district informed the business that it could apply for a temporary use permit — seeking permission to do its work for a short period of time, even if it goes against bylaw.
But Jurisich says they haven't done so because they don't believe they have to. He says they're working with lawyers to determine how to proceed.
Amanda Yasinski, manager of bylaw compliance at the CVRD, says the company has also violated another bylaw by doing work within a stream.
Issue raises concerns about shipbreaking
Community members have raised concerns about the potential hazards associated with shipbreaking — when ships are dismantled and scrapped or salvaged.
Ray Rewcastle is with a group called Concerned Citizens of Baynes Sound. He's worried about the effect on the water off Union Bay, which is home to half of B.C.'s oyster production.
"As much as they may not contain any fluids when they get here, they've been transporting chemicals and hydrocarbons for 30 or 40 years, those can penetrate into the steel hull," which can be released when blow torches are used to cut up the vessels, says Rewcastle. He says the issue has caught the eye of an international NGO that fights for environmental standards for shipbreaking.
In a statement released late last year, K'ómoks First Nation Hegus (Chief Councillor) Nicole Rempel said: "We've discovered that there are no federal or provincial regulations in place for the deconstruction of ships on land. Until it's too late and an actual environmental impact happens, there is nothing holding the company accountable, just voluntary adherence to the guidelines they've set for themselves."
Daniel Arbour is the CVRD director for Electoral Area A, which includes Union Bay, and is one of the people who voted to seek the injunction and exclude shipbreaking from permitted activities.
Now, he's calling on the province and federal governments to create broader regulations. He says right now, there just aren't rules about how companies can safely dismantle ships.
"We need shipbreaking in the province, we agree that it should be done in Canada, in a proper way, but we haven't invested time or regulations like we have with shipbuilding," Arbour said.
CBC has asked the province if it is considering creating broader regulations surrounding shipbreaking across the province. No response was received by publication time.