Sunken equipment to be raised

Wildlife News
Goal is to protect habitat of Robson Bight frequented by whales
 
 

Sandra McCulloch
Vancouver Sun
Friday, April 18, 2008

VICTORIA - The provincial and federal government announced Friday a fuel tanker and other logging equipment containing pollutants will be recovered from the ocean floor near Robson Bight.

But the salvage operation might not happen before the annual visit of orcas in June, said Environment Minister Barry Penner.
"We'll try to avoid the time when we know the time they'll be there just in case something went wrong," Penner said, adding that "it's possible" the operation will be delayed until after the migration.

"My preference is to do it first but for the last week or two my ministry staff have been canvassing various salvage operators to check on their availability and interest...and it's going to be a real challenge to marshal enough equipment and resources to do this before mid-June."


Eleven pieces of equipment tumbled off a barge on Aug. 20, 2007 into 350 metres of water within an area designated as an environmental reserve.


 


Penner and federal minister of Fisheries and Oceans Loyola Hearn made the joint announcement to split the cost of the operation, which could be between $750,000 to $1 million.

The chances of recovering the costs from the logging company which owns the equipment are slim, since Ted LeRoy Trucking of Chemainus has already filed for bankruptcy.

The cost "is very dependent on weather conditions," said Penner. The cost will also depend on the number of pieces of equipment recovered, and the priority will be those which pose the greatest risk to pollution, he said.

"The price tag will go up as you try to recover additional pieces which are more dispersed," Penner said.
The government wants to minimize potential impacts to orcas and other wildlife.

"We think this is great news," said Jennifer Lash of Living Oceans Society.
"Hopefully they'll be able to move on it really quickly and they'll get that equipment removed before the whales come back in June."

Paul Spong, director of Orca Lab on Hanson Island, was jubilant upon hearing the news.
"I'm very relieved, I have to say. We're right on the brink on the time where a decision needed to be made in order to do the job before the orcas return this summer," he said.The orcas could pass through in late June or even early July, said Spong, so "they need to aim for getting that tanker out of there by the middle of June," he said.

Spong said the salvage operator could use a shroud that would go over the tanker "and if there's leakage as the tanker came up, it would be contained. I think that's a terrific idea."

Recent video footage of the sunken equipment shows the vehicles are mostly upright and relatively undamaged. The tanker, which carries 10,000 litres, doesn't appear to be leaking.

Great care must be taken in the salvage operation, said Lash. "We need to make sure we're working with salvage experts who will not just get the equipment to the surface but will minimize the amount of oil leaking out of the equipment, because [a major spill] would be a disaster," she said.

The timing of the salvage will be crucial because whales will come through the area in June, said Lash: "We're all going to be on the edge of our seats and we'll breathe a lot easier when this is over and done with."

There are lessons to be learned from this experience, Lash said.
"We want to know why a barge with logging equipment was even in Robson Bight in the first place. The amount of traffic going up and down the coast is increasing every day. We'd like to see the government have a plan for this area that manages the traffic and looks after the environment."


Canwest News Service 

 

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