Blackney Pass Tidal Energy Dispute Resolved

by orcalab

'Scimitar' & 'Stripe' at the entrance to Blackney Pass

'Scimitar' & 'Stripe' at the entrance to Blackney Pass

 

Less than 2 weeks ago, thanks to Angela Smith who saw a public notice posted in the North island Gazette, we became aware of a proposal by SRM Projects of Nanaimo, B.C. to conduct an investigation of the tidal energy potential of Blackney Pass at the entrance to Johnstone Strait. Leah Robinson began a dialogue with the project leader, Scot Merriam, and learned that the technology to be used in the investigation was not yet known, nor was the type of turbine installation that would ultimately be used.

Our concerns focused on the fact that the area in question is a key component of Critical Habitat for the Northern resident orca community, a designation which recognises the population’s threatened status under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). This legislation imposes a heavy responsibility on governments and users to protect and act in the best interests of the orcas. Clearly, there was a problem and potential threat in the proposal.

There was another problem too, in that the deadline for submitting comments on the proposal to the government agency involved was just a week away. Our colleague Jackie Hildering, whose blog The Marine Detective is a wonderful source of information and inspiration, sprang into action and posted the news with the headline “Tidal Turbines in Whale Epicentre? Hell No!” It was an arousing and to the point commentary that provided links to the government agencies involved in assessing the application. Almost immediately and to his credit, Scot began a dialogue with Jackie.

We passed the urgent news and a link to Jackie’s blog on to Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) in the UK and Germany, and also to the Born Free Foundation in the UK. Within 2 days, WDC had sent an Action Alert to its members, with links for comments. Additionally, we sent an email message to our “issues” list and posted links to Jackie’s blog on the OrcaLab 100 and OrcaLive FaceBook pages. One of the people on our list is Times Colonist reporter Judy Lavoie, another is CBC Radio Victoria. Interviews with both were arranged, with stories appearing on November 14th, the comment deadline day.

We saw some but by no means all of the comments that resulted from the publicity and various efforts, but they clearly demonstrated the depth of feeling for orcas and protection of their habitat that exists around the world.

Perhaps coincidentally, the BC Environment web site went down on the comment deadline day. Many people who tried to submit comments were frustrated. Quite possibly as a result, the next day the comment deadline was extended to December 2nd. This extension provided a breathing space that allowed more comments to be made, and also provided an opportunity for dialogue with the proponent.

The past several days have seen several rounds of communication between ourselves and Scot. It quickly became apparent that he did not realise that the area he was interested in exploring was part of orca Critical Habitat, and very soon generously expressed a willingness to drop his application. We have spent the last couple of days working on a press release to be issued jointly, at this time. It follows this, and is self explanatory.

We only wish to add that we are deeply appreciative of Scot’s willingness to compromise and work with us in settling the issue and solving the problem. As he said in an email today, commenting on us having found common ground: “In this process, we are demonstrating to others what is possible by working together.”

Please feel free, and encouraged, to distribute this good news widely!

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November 19, 2012

News Release

Tidal Energy Dispute Resolved

OrcaLab, a whale research station on Hanson Island, B.C., and SRM Projects Ltd., a renewable energy engineering firm from Nanaimo, B.C., jointly announced today that they have found common ground after SRM Project’s tidal energy investigative license application for Blackney Passage raised concerns with OrcaLab and others because the site is located within Critical Habitat for whales. The parties agree that minimizing threats to species at risk and clean energy generation are both important for B.C.

In recognition of this, SRM Projects is withdrawing the investigative license application. OrcaLab commended SRM for this move and reiterated their support for ocean energy initiatives, provided all proposed projects go through a transparent and rigorous environmental and regulatory review process that includes First Nations and stakeholders.

Dr. Paul Spong, founder of OrcaLab states “We see this as a win-win situation.” and adds “We are very pleased with how receptive SRM Projects was to the concerns we raised.”

Whale researcher and marine educator, Jackie Hildering of Port McNeill who is the author of “The Marine Detective” blog, which drew public attention to the proposed project, agreed. “With SRM Projects withdrawing the Blackney Pass application, they have shown a true dedication to sustainability.”

Scot Merriam, principal of SRM Projects, says “Tidal energy is a new and relatively unknown source of clean electrical power in BC. While preliminary research and demonstration studies from Europe indicate the promise of the technology, we need to introduce it here in small steps, outside of important habitat areas, to gain local knowledge and social acceptance.”

Reflecting on the initial dispute resulting from the investigative license application, Paul Spong says “One thing is clear – there is a crucial disconnect in our land acquisition process if Critical Habitat areas don’t show up on the BC GIS mapping database used by proponents to search for suitable development opportunities.”

SRM Projects and OrcaLab intend to maintain a dialogue going forward to share knowledge as new information becomes available about marine mammals and ocean energy. Scot Merriam concludes “Ultimately, our common goal is to look for ways we can coexist with nature and minimize our footprint.”

Contacts:

Dr. Paul Spong – OrcaLab: 250-974-2880 or orcalab@island.net

Scot Merriam – SRM Projects: 250-758-5352 or smerriam@srmprojects.ca