$150M spill-response boost for B.C. coast on hold after Trans Mountain ruling

The Western Canada Marine Response Corporation's improvements — including a $10-million hub and training facility in Nanaimo, and more bases, vessels and resources for Vancouver Island, Vancouver and the Fraser River — were tied to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Funding for new bases and vessels tied to pipeline expansion

Michael Lowry, a spokesperson for the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, says some spill improvements have been put on hold. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

New oil spill-response bases planned for Vancouver Island have been thrown into limbo by the Federal Court of Appeal decision that halted construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, which is responsible for cleaning up oil spills on B.C.'s South Coast, has been moving forward with a $150-million plan to enhance spill-response times and capability, in preparation for the pipeline project.

That plan includes a $10-million hub and training facility in Nanaimo, along with more vessels and several other response bases on Vancouver Island. Expanded resources are also planned in Vancouver and along the Fraser River.

But the court ruling last week that stopped construction of the pipeline expansion means the industry-funded corporation has hit pause on spill-response improvements.

"Without that pipeline, these enhancements don't go ahead," said Michael Lowry, a spokesperson for the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, which has been cleaning up spills in B.C. waters for more than 20 years.

An artist's rendering of the moorage planned at the spill response hub and training centre in Nanaimo. (WCMRC)

Funding comes from pipeline toll

The funds for enhanced response capabilities were a condition of the pipeline expansion approval.

"The funding for this comes from a fee or a toll on the pipeline that is going to be charged to the shippers on the pipeline," Lowry said.

The planned improvements would cut mandated response times roughly in half in South Coast waters, Lowry said.

With the extra resources in place, response times for a spill in the Port of Vancouver would be reduced to two hours. Response times elsewhere on the South Coast would be reduced to six hours.

Along with new response bases, the agency plans to add 120 new employees and 40 new vessels at locations along B.C.'s southern shipping lanes.

Equipment planned at the response bases would include barges, skimming vessels, landing craft and work boats.

"It's frustrating being in a holding pattern, but we are prepared to wait to see what the outcome of the federal actions are on the pipeline," Lowry said.

An empty lot at the port in Nanaimo was to be home to a new incident command post and serve as a training facility for spill response bases on Vancouver Island. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Even though the enhanced oil spill response plan has been put on hold, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said significant government investments in marine safety are still proceeding through the Canadian Coast Guard as part of the Oceans Protection Plan.

"The investments we are making on marine safety are important irrespective of the pipeline," he said.

Leases already signed

The halt to expanding spill response capabilities comes after leases were already signed for some of the new base locations, including in Nanaimo, where the corporation is tied into a 25-year lease.

It's too early to speculate on whether the uncertainty over the pipeline expansion will lead to a scaled-down version of the facility planned for the site, Lowry said.

While construction of the new bases is on hold, existing spill-response vessels will continue to operate. New spill-response ships already being built will also be completed, Lowry said.

-with files from On The Island

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About the Author

Megan Thomas

Reporter

Megan Thomas is a reporter for CBC in Victoria, B.C. She covers stories from around Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. Follow her on Twitter @meganTcbc.