[images and links in on-line article]
First Nation considering lawsuit after diesel spill destroys clam beds
By Elizabeth McSheffrey in News, Energy
October 18th 2016
Salvage crews have removed more than 23,000 litres of diesel from a
sunken tug on British Columbia's central coast, but a local First Nation
said Tuesday that the damage has already been done and a lawsuit could
be on its way.
More than 60 per cent of the Heiltsuk First Nation's clam beds were
poisoned after a tug and barge unit ran aground in the Seaforth Channel
last Thursday, leaving many members of the remote community without an
income-earning activity for the upcoming season. Fisheries and Oceans
Canada has shut down shellfish harvesting in the region due to
pollution, and Chief Marilyn Slett said her community may very well seek
compensation from the American company responsible for the disaster and
the Government of Canada as well.
Clam harvesting was scheduled to begin in roughly three weeks, she
added, and typically rakes in roughly $150,000 in annual income for the
small First Nation in Bella Bella, B.C.
"That’s what we’re literally anguishing over right now," she told
National Observer. "What are we going to do? These are people who
depended on the harvest for their winter economy. We expect we’ll sit
down with some other government agencies to start having these (legal
and financial) discussions."
"Bread basket" region ruined by spill
Late last week, a 10,000-tonne tanker and barge unit belonging to the
Texas-based Kirby Corp. ran aground in the remote and stunning Great
Bear Rainforest, spilling an unknown quantity of diesel fuel into the
area's pristine waters.
First responders, including Kirby, the Canadian Coast Guard, RCMP, and
Transport Canada reported Monday that some of the fuel had already
flowed past containment efforts into nearby Gale Passage. On Tuesday, it
was confirmed that the pumps removing diesel from the tug failed due to
water in the engine, hampering the day's efforts to avert an
environmental disaster in the vulnerable coastal ecosystem. A skimming
vessel arrived on the scene yesterday, no oiled wildlife has been
spotted to date, and fuel removal will continue overnight.
The Heiltsuk First Nation, whose home in Bella Bella is roughly 20
kilometres west of the accident, has already depleted many of its
resources responding to the accident. The loss of the clam beds is just
the first impact on what Chief Slett described as the "bread basket" for
the community, which is also an important harvesting site for kelp,
spawning herring and salmon.
"Ultimately, we’re bearing the risk and the aftermath," she said. "We’ve
worked so hard to make sure that the landscape and marine integrity is
kept intact, and then this happens… this should not have happened."
The First Nation has set up a crowdfunding campaign to support its own
first responders, who have "been on scene from dawn to dusk every day to
lay booms and assist with cleanup efforts," according to the FundRazr
page. Many of those on scene are elderly men and hereditary chiefs,
Chief Slett added, who have used their own boats, spent money to fuel
them, and given up community space to house visitors and an incident
Mounting pressure on Transport Canada
The entire incident has increased pressure on the federal government to
implement its promised crude oil tanker ban for B.C.'s northern coast,
and on Tuesday, the Green Party of Canada joined the federal NDP, the
Heiltsuk, and Coastal First Nations in calling on Transport Minister
Marc Garneau for immediate action.
"Minister Garneau needs to act now, listen to the pleas of the Heiltsuk
First Nation, and ban U.S. tankers and tug-barge traffic from passing
through this sensitive marine environment,” said Green Party
international trade critic Paul Manly in a Tuesday press release.
"The response from Mr. Garneau has been only in word, that we’ve seen
very little on the ground and that the devastation, the impact for the
Heiltsuk people, for the west coast environment is significant and
prolonged," added NDP MP Nathan Cullen outside the House of Commons.
"It’s been almost a year now we’re waiting on the federal Liberals to
bring in their tanker ban of some kind, yet we have nothing other than
empty words, and people on the coast are being devastated by this – this
spill right now."
Last Friday, a story in the Vancouver Sun revealed that the same tug
that spilled in the Great Bear Rainforest, the Nathan E. Stewart, had
been adrift in Alaskan waters carrying more than 2 million gallons of
diesel fuel in 2011, and had been making weekly trips using a waiver
from the Pacific Pilotage Authority that exempted it from a requirement
to have Canadian pilots on board.
Transport Canada has since revoked this exemption for all vessels
operated by Kirby but has remained quiet on the timeline of its promised
tanker ban, even as it assures the public that it is taking the
situation "very seriously."
"We are cooperating with the Transportation Safety Board and I have
appointed a Minister's Observer who will keep me informed of their
progress so that my department can be ready to take quick action should
any early findings be identified to improve safety," said Garneau in a
press release on Tuesday. "I want to thank the first responders, the
Bella Bella Community and the Heiltsuk Nation who acted quickly to
minimize the damages caused by this incident, as their efforts certainly
made a difference."
Heiltsuk waiting to interview Kirby crew
The Heiltsuk First Nation remains skeptical, said Chief Slett. Despite
its contributions to clean up, its collaboration with government
agencies, and rights and title in the region, it has not yet had the
opportunity to interview the seven-member crew of the tug that ran
aground, while this same opportunity has been granted to the
Transportation Safety Board of Canada.
When National Observer raised the issue, the TSB denied involvement in
this delay, as did an official from Transport Canada. A spokesperson for
Kirby however, said that now that the crew has completed all interviews
required by regulators it will choose individually whether or not to
participate in interviews with the Heiltsuk.
"That’s news to us, because we have been corresponding with (Transport
Canada and Kirby)," said Slett. "We’ve been feeling like we have this
disaster happening in our backyard and we had an oil spill response that
was inadequate, and that’s putting it lightly."
The latest joint situation report from Kirby says diesel was being
transferred from the ship at a rate of about 500 litres per minute with
the entire operation expected to conclude sometime Wednesday morning.
Once the fuel is removed, Kirby hopes to use a crane to lift it from the
water and barge it out of the area.
Kelly Russ, board chairman of Coastal First Nations (CFN), who has
supported the Heiltsuk during meetings with outside first responders,
said the entire incident was "catastrophic," and a "pin drop" compared
to what could happen if a crude oil tanker were to crash in the Great
Bear Rainforest. It's proof that the Trudeau government's promised
tanker ban is necessary, he told National Observer, and proof that First
Nations must be meaningfully included in the development of shipping
strategy for B.C.'s waters.
"What struck me when I sat in the room, was that you’d have all these
people presenting information (to) Heiltsuk — and this is not a
criticism of Heiltsuk — it’s just the power imbalance and (their)
capacity to respond to the event," he explained. "This diesel spill just
crystallizes our worst fears with respect to fossil fuels being transported.
“It seems from our perspective at CFN, if we’re approaching
reconciliation on a nation-to-nation basis, then it can’t simply be a
souped up stakeholder position for First Nations, it can’t be
stakeholder plus. We should be past stakeholder status.”
Sustainablelorgbiofuel mailing list