Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) held a community open house on Thursday, March 12 at the Ucluelet Aquarium to share plans for its Port Alberni-Ucluelet spill response base.
The Port Alberni-Ucluelet spill response base is part of an enhanced spill response regime being implemented in Vancouver Harbour and along the Southern Shipping Line. The enhancements are being funded by the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project at an estimated cost of $150 million.
“Trans Mountain’s project will increase tanker traffic in the Southern Shipping Lanes, where all deep sea vessels come in. Right now there is about one tanker a week and that will increase to seven tankers [a week],” said WCMRC communications manager Michael Lowry.
According to a 2018 statistics overview compiled by the Port of Vancouver, the outbound metric tonnage of crude petroleum shipped between 2017 and 2018 increased by 67 per cent. The Trans Mountain expansion project came about in response to requests from oil shippers to help them reach new markets in B.C., Washington state, California and Asia, reads a statement on the Trans Mountain website.
Before the pipeline expansion goes into operation, the National Energy Board mandates Trans Mountain to have an enhanced spill response regime in place.
“We have a requirement to have [the marine spill response enhancements] up and running six months before they go into operation,” said Lowry.
Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, one of 27 major terminals out of the Port of Vancouver, is also getting a new dock complex as part of the Trans Mountain expansion project. WCMRC’s main base for Vancouver Island is Nanaimo with additional bases in Sidney and Beecher Bay.
“The Port Alberni-Ucluelet base will work in tandem,” said Lowry, adding that Port Alberni-Ucluelet will share nine vessels between the towns, including one large Coastal Response vessel built in Singapore and a Skimming Vessels built in Washington state.
WCMRC communications manager Michael Lowry discusses spill response details with a Ucluelet resident on March 12.
Ucluelet fire chief Rick Geddes attended the March 12 open house.
“This is long overdue for this town for sure. Since I’ve been here eight months, I’ve already had two instances of significant spills of fuel on the water. Really, that’s not the district’s jurisdiction, it’s federal jurisdiction anytime you are on the water, but it defaults to me being the emergency co-ordinator for the district,” said fire chief Geddes.
“And that’s fine, I’d rather deal with it, but I have limited resources and man-power to deal with stuff on the water,” he continued. “We don’t have a lot of spill response gear as a fire department.”
Ucluelet resident James Costello is the president of the Pacific Rim Fish & Game Association. He spoke to the Westerly at the open house event on March 12.
“I think [spill response] an essential part of managing the risk associated with marine activities and infrastructure that’s in place,” said Costello.
“With the bigger boats coming in, even the larger fishing vessels, there is a need to have a response like this on the Coast for multiple user groups. It’s not just going to be for the [Trans Mountain] pipeline. It’s preparedness for the community in general and I think it’s a good employment opportunity as well. Having it here re-establishes Ucluelet as a marine industry centre,” he said.
WCMRC’s primary focus is oil spill clean up. The Port Alberni-Ucluelet spill base will work very closely with the Coast Guard, and plan on doing some cross-training with local fire departments to help with response.
“The project is to reduce response times this area. So going from sometimes a 72-hour response time to a six-hour. And in Vancouver from a six-hour down to a two-hour,” said Lowry.
Construction for the Port Alberni-Ucluelet spill base is aiming to be complete in the winter of 2021.
The new West Coast spill response facility will employ 20 residents living in the Port Alberni or Ucluelet area.
“Primarily we are looking to hire mariners. From deck hands to captains to engineers and then we train them on spill response tactics and techniques,” Lowry said.
WCMRC employee out of Vancouver Conlan Magel has a biology degree in environmental protection. Five years ago, he began his career within WCMRC as a young summer student in the operations department.
“I joined this company because the mission was in-line with my personal values. I have been in B.C. my entire life. I go up and down the Coast all the time. I love the environment,” said Magel.
“Everyone [at WCRMRC] is a mariner or has some connection to the ocean, so we are working together to protect it,” he said.
RELATED: Canadian Spill Response Regime