The West Coast’s efforts to clean up the aftermath of last year’s shipping container spill have hit a funding snag, according to Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns.
Volunteers have collected much of what crashed ashore when 35 containers spilled off the cargo ship Hanjin Seattle while it was making its way from San Franciso to Seattle on Nov. 5, but Johns believes some of the supersacks that debris was collected in are now stranded with no funding available to carry them out.
The vessel’s owner, Hanjin Shipping, was ordered to pay $72,000 to help the cleanup efforts, as part of the South Korean company’s ongoing bankruptcy proceedings. That money was held by Canada’s federal government until June of this year before being dished out to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
The Park Reserve worked with local organizations, particularly Surfrider Pacific Rim, to organize volunteer cleanups of the debris, which was organized into 17 pick-up sites, according to Johns who said he was dismayed to see the Park Reserve pump the brakes on its originally laid out pick-up plan due to funding limitations.
“They were going to have to leave a bunch of these sacks there and it was up to Surfrider to find the money to pick them up. It’s sickening…People think it’s like a bunch of plastic bags or pop bottles on the beach, this is massive pieces of styrofoam and metal. This isn’t light stuff and it’s not easy to remove,” Johns told the Westerly News on Thursday.
“The fact that the government, through the National Park, had made a promise to remove it all once it was gathered and now they’re saying the don’t have the resources to do it, is absolutely insulting and it’s a betrayal to the people of our communities.”
He said he successfully lobbied the Park Reserve to clear debris from some of the sites, but that Flores Island is still scheduled to be missed.
“With our pressure this week, the Park has now has expanded to go back to promising to remove those areas around Ucluelet and others that they identified when they set out the 17 points, but we need to secure that seventeenth point up on Flores Island to finish the job,” he said.
He added the supersacks must be removed before the West Coast’s winter storms hit.
“This isn’t a lot of money right now to remove the debris that’s been gathered, but it’s going to be a lot of money if that debris gets spread out all over the coast again and we have to call on volunteers again,” he said.
He said he’s been shocked to see the Government of Canada offer no funding of its own outside of the $72,000 from Hanjin Shipping.
“The government has given zero money, not a nickel, to this cleanup……For them to tell us that they don’t have a funding mechanism is complete garbage, no pun intended,” he said. “If this was in Ottawa River, you can’t tell me that they wouldn’t figure out a way. Disasters happen and you throw money at it and you fix it before it creates greater damage and they haven’t done that.”
He said he’s reached out to the Prime Minister’s office and will continue pressing for more funding.
“I’m absolutely not going to sit idle and watch this group and the volunteers in our communities be left out and told, ‘Too bad.’ That’s not acceptable,” he said. “These people did this because they care and then the government’s going to treat them like this? It’s absolutely disgraceful. It’s unacceptable and we’re not going to let this happen.”
The Park Reserve declined an interview request but issued a written statement on Sept. 22 suggesting that 13 of the 17 shipping containers that were located after crashing ashore have been removed from within the Park Reserve as well as surrounding areas, including Vargas, Blunden, Bartlett, and George Fraser Islands and that four other containers are scheduled to be removed “as weather permits.”
“Removal of the debris has been made more challenging by the remote locations and rugged shorelines of the region, discovery of more debris in areas not originally identified in Parks Canada’s work plan, and the necessity and cost of using barges as well as helicopters to sling the material out,” the statement reads.
“In the spirit of cooperation, Parks Canada was able to direct most of the funding received from Hanjin to clean-up outside of the park reserve’s boundaries. The Hanjin funds have gone towards equipment, transport, helicopters, and barges needed to break down, collect, and remove the debris both inside and outside the park reserve, with some funds provided to Surfrider towards their expenses. This dollar amount does not reflect the many hours of time dedicated by volunteers and Parks Canada staff to planning and removing the debris.”
The statement adds that Parks Canada plans to meet with local stakeholders next week to “discuss possible options for removing debris from the remaining two sites.”