Robson Bight update: good news! – April 20th 2008

We have good news.  Yesterday, British Columbia’s Environment Minister Barry Penner announced that Canada’s federal government will cooperate with the province in removing the diesel fuel tanker now lying underwater in the Ecological Reserve at Robson Bight.  Though no definite timing was stated, subsequent comments by Minister Penner clearly indicated that officials are aware that the northern resident orcas are expected to return by early summer.  However, we do not know if this reflects a determination to remove the threat before the orcas return.

The decision represents real progress on an issue that should have impelled immediate action of the part of governments.  The aftermath of the August 20th accident saw a smoke & mirrors dance (“no problem”) that delayed inspection of the wreckage, and then, once the dire situation had been dramatically revealed in underwater imagery, we were treated with stalling instead of planning.  It took considerable effort from the public side to convince our governments to do an underwater inspection of the wreckage in the first instance, and then even more effort to convince them to do what was obvious from the outset.  Now, finally, we have a decision.  But is it in time? 

We are left feeling very encouraged, but still very anxious.  If the tanker with its toxic cargo can be removed before the orcas return, great; we will breathe a collective sigh of relief and the orcas will be safe; but if it cannot, we will find ourselves once again waiting; and as we wait, the tanker will continue to corrode and the chances of another disastrous oil spill will increase.  Once the orcas have returned to Johnstone Strait, they will probably remain though the late fall; if the recovery operation is delayed until after the orcas leave the area, weather conditions may make it impossible this year.

What happens now will depend on the ability of government officials to move swiftly through the process of awarding a contract and having the job done.  If a call for bids happens this coming week, with a very short time window for submissions, and very soon thereafter the contract is awarded, there is time, barely, to remove the tanker before the orcas return.  If this does not happen, the governments will face a very difficult choice: removing the tanker while orcas are present, or delaying removal until after the orcas leave. Both choices are fraught with risks; to the orcas and to the sensitive ecology of Robson Bight.   

At this point, we have a simple but urgent request for you to act on.  Please write again to the Ministers involved, thanking them for their decision.  At the same time, please insist that they do what is needed before the orcas return, i.e. before mid June, 2008. Thank you very much.

Here are contact details for Ministers Penner and Hearn:

The Honourable Barry Penner
Minister of the Environment
P.O. Box 9047, Stn. Prov. Gov’t.
Victoria, B.C.
V8W 9E2 Canada
phone:  1-250-387-1187
fax:  1-250-387-1356
Email: [email protected]

The Honourable Loyola Hearn, Minister
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
200 Kent St. Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0E6 Canada
phone:  1-613-992-3474
fax:  1-613- 995-7858
Email: [email protected]

Here is a link to the government announcement:

And here is a link to one of the stories that appeared after the announcement:              

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