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B.C. spill response plans in limbo after Trans Mountain decision

Plans to build six new spill response bases along B.C.’s coast are up in the air after last week’s court decision to halt the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The six locations were part of a $150-million funding injection for marine safety that also included about 120 new hires and 43 new vessels.

The money was to be collected by Western Canada Marine Response Corp. from an impending toll on the expanded pipeline.

The corporation is an industry-funded organization tasked with responding to and cleaning up spills along B.C.’s coast.

READ MORE: WCMRC grows its fleet and spill response on the North Coast

But all of those plans are on hold now, according to its communications director Michael Lowry.

“We started working with Trans Mountain about five years ago on proposed enhancements for spill response on the coast,” said Lowry.

“So these enhancements have always been tied to the pipeline” by the National Energy Board.

Last Thursday, the Federal Court of Appeal shot down Ottawa’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion on the grounds of environmental risk and Indigenous consultation.

The decision found that the National Energy Board “unjustifiably defined the scope of the project under review not to include project-related tanker traffic.”

READ MORE: B.C. ‘very disappointed’ by court decision to not hear Trans Mountain appeal

This allowed the board to ignore any harm increased tanker traffic could cause to Southern resident killer whales along the B.C. coast.

The court’s ruling means that the National Energy Board will have to redo its review of the Trans Mountain pipeline and the feds will have to reengage with Indigenous groups.

Its decision effectively put the $150 million in spill response improvements on hold.

The proposed spill response enhancements, Lowery said, were meant to reduce response time from six hours to two hours for Vancouver Harbour and down from 18-72 hours to six hours for the rest of the coast.

“But based on the ruling last week, there’s some uncertainty on what the next steps are,” said Lowry.

“We’ve put a pause on the work on our bases.”

The six bases would have been built in Vancouver Harbour, near Annacis Island in the Fraser River, in Nanaimo, Port Alberni, the Saanich Peninsula and Beecher Bay near Sooke.

The problem, Lowry said, is that several 25-year leases have already been signed.

“We’ve got leases in place with Port Metro Vancouver, the Fraser River, Nanaimo Port Authority and the Port Alberni Port Authority,” said Lowry.

“The next step for us was to proceed to issuing construction tenders. That’s paused right now.”

Lowry said that currently, the corporation won’t try to make any changes to those leases.

Instead, they’ll wait and see what happens with the pipeline expansion.

Some work has already started on the shipbuilding side.

“We have vessels being built in Prince Rupert, we have some being built down in Washington and we have some being built overseas,” he said.

“We can’t stop that work.”

READ MORE: Trans Mountain’s first oil spill response ship ready

Some of the new 120 planned employees have already been hired, Lowry said, but noted that they’ll keep their jobs because of the corporations phased-in hiring process.

“We’re bringing employees on based on the arrival of vessels so that we always have crew to man the new vessels,” he said.

“It’s certainly a bit of a balancing act.”


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katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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Katya Slepian

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