Surfrider volunteer Michael Devon stands next to a washed up Hanjin container on Mussel Beach.

Winter’s weather looms over spilled container debris around Tofino and Ucluelet

“With everyday we wait for collection, the more foam will continue to travel and pollute.”

As storm watchers gleefully schedule trips to the West Coast to watch winter’s waves crash in, local shore lovers are fretting over the impact stormy tides could have on the debris they’ve collected from a shipping container spill last year.

Roughly 35 shipping containers spilled off a cargo ship owned by Hanjin Shipping in November hurling a significant amount of metal and Styrofoam insulation debris towards the Coast.

The South Korean shipping company was going through bankruptcy proceedings at the time and, as part of those proceedings, was ordered to pay $72,000 towards the cleanup of its spilled containers.

That money was, eventually, released to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to fund cleanup efforts, but while the West Coast waited, Surfrider Pacific Rim launched massive volunteer efforts to collect the debris into super-sacks in 17 heavily impacted areas. Those large sacks are in remote locations and require helicopters to lift them away, which, in some cases, hasn’t happened as quickly as Surfrider had hoped.

“With everyday we wait for collection, the more foam will continue to travel and pollute.” Surfrider Pacific Rim chair Michelle Hall told the Westerly News.

“The Hanjin debris looked a lot different in December 2016 to what it does almost a year after the spill…Foam travels quickly, and has affected much more of the shoreline than was first assessed. It’s unfortunate it took the Federal government almost eight months to release the compensation to PRNPR and Surfrider, as it has now cost a lot more than what was first anticipated because of the spread of the debris and the complications with the containers and the way the ocean had wedged them into rocks, or had trees and logs pile on top of them.”

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve has brought in helicopters to clear some sites, like Vargas, Blunden, Bartlett and George Fraser islands as well as Combers Beach, but at least four other areas remain, including the former Wyndansea golf development near Ucluelet.

Parks Canada spokesperson Laura Judson told the Westerly the remaining debris will be picked up as weather permits.

“Parks Canada’s main responsibility is for the removal of debris from inside the national park reserve. However, we have and continue to support debris removal on sites outside of the national park reserve as much as operationally possible,” she said. “In addition, we have offered expertise and helped to identify possible solutions for removing debris from other sites outside of the national park reserve, including Flores Island, with stakeholders and levels of government.”

Hall said the Flores Island sites brought frustration to Surfrider because, after the volunteer efforts to collect the debris into super-sacks, Surfrider was shocked to hear that the National Park Reserve would not have the funding to helicopter it out to its Vancouver location to be recycled.

“We realised that the 14 sites and 65 supersacs waiting on the shores of Flores were now at risk from the seasonal tides, and they could at any day be dragged back out to sea,” Hall said. “Our volunteers had already spent hundreds of hours organising the clean up, recruiting volunteers and camping on Flores for 4 days collecting debris, and now to think it was all at risk was devastating.”

She said Surfrider, with support from Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns, was able to strike a last-minute financial aid agreement with the Alberni Clayoquot Regional district to sling the debris off Flores independent of federal funding.

She added Atleo Air provided planning help and an “incredible discount’ on the helicopter front and G&N Towing stepped up with a barge to cart the sacks to Vancouver to be recycled.

Hall was thrilled to see local companies step up to complete Surfrider’s Flores Island efforts, but remains disappointed by the National Park Reserve’s failure to fund the work.

“To be told at the last minute that Parks can’t afford to pick up from all locations is not okay,” she said. “It puts local government officials on the hot seat to taxpayers, and that’s not okay. Surfrider are working with our local governments to ensure that the money is repaid.”

Judson said Parks Canada is grateful for the volunteer efforts to remove the debris, but added not all of it came from the Hanjin spill.

“It is important to note that the shorelines affected by the Hanjin spill also contain debris that is not associated with the incident,” she said adding local businesses, like Creative Salmon, Sonbird Refuse and Recycle and Cermaq Canada have all pitched in to support the efforts.

“This support has allowed Parks Canada to focus the funds secured from Hanjin creditors to incident-related clean-up efforts,” she said.

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