MP: Speedy implementation of feds’ Ocean Protection Plan needed

A recent oil spill on the B.C. coast has made it clear that Canada is not in the position to clean up or prevent an oil spill, according to North Island MP Rachel Blaney.

A few weeks after a tug ran aground Oct. 13 west of Bella Bella and spilled oil and contaminants from tanks it had on board, the Government of Canada released an Oceans Protection Plan. A part of the plan is future steps the government will take to prevent and respond to spills.

Blaney said the plan is timely but she is waiting for quick and efficient implementation.

“If we have a significant oil spill and we don’t have a proper response it could lead to very long term significant impacts,” she said.

Blaney also wonders if the responses would have been different if the coast guard communication station in Comox was still active.

“At the end of the day I think the most important thing is do we have the ability to respond?” she said.

According to the document, the protection plan was designed to achieve a world-leading marine safety system that will increase the governments capacity to prevent and improve response to marine pollution incidents.

This world-leading system will better information sharing of marine traffic with coastal communities. The goal is to design a system that allows residents of coastal communities to access real-time information on marine whipping activities in their local waters.

Indigenous and coastal communities will be asked for suggestions such as speed and routing restrictions to minimize safety risks, or areas to prohibit sewer discharges and other measures that would contribute to safety and environmental protection goals.

The plan will prevent black-out periods within Canada’s Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centres. Another part of the plan is the purchase of six new radars for Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centres in B.C. as well as one in Newfoundland and one in Nova Scotia.

Under the plan major ports will have access to increased charting and electronic navigation tools and because of an investment in Canadian Hydrographic Service surveys will increase and high resolution navigational charts will be produced more quickly.

Environment and Climate Change Canada has also launched a five-year project to provide more detailed marine weather services in high traffic areas.

A major part of preventing spills and responding quickly will be developing regional response plans. As part of the process Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Coast Guard will work with Indigenous communities and others to identify and map regions of high ecological sensitivity as well as areas of cultural, social and economic importance.

When this plan is implemented funds will be more easily accessible for response and clean-up. The government will strengthen the polluter-pay principal by amending the Canadian Ship-Source Oil Pollution Fund.

These amendments will include unlimited compensation, guaranteed fund top-up and funding into the hands of those who need it.

The protection plan will also improve on monitoring and on-the-water response capacity. The Coast Guard will have 24/7 emergency management capacity and Environment Canada will be providing emergency officers as well as increased wildlife service staff. They will be enhancing their 24/7 oil spill modelling capacity and improving communications and readiness to ensure that the environment is protected in the event of a spill.

The Coast Guard will be given greater power to intervene directly to prevent marine incidents such as where ship operators have been reluctant to act.

The Coast Guard will have access to two vessels with the ability to tow large commercial ships and other equipment will be upgraded to ensure better response in the event of a spill.

A new logistics depot will be built in Port Hardy to house environmental response staff and equipment so that responses can be faster.

The government will be working with stakeholders, experts, industry as well as coastal and Indigenous communities to research and plan on how Canada can better prepare and respond to dangerous goods spills.

Scientists will also conduct research to better understand how petroleum products behave in our waters, the paths they will travel and the affects they will could have on the environment in the event of a spill.

The plan also outlines initiatives to restore marine ecosystems and launch monitoring plans.

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