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Disaster response plan reignited after Trans Mountain green light

The federal government’s decision to approve expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline for a second time has kickstarted expansion of disaster response on the west coast.
map - marine spill response

The federal government’s decision to approve expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline for a second time has kickstarted expansion of disaster response on the west coast.

Western Canada Marine Response Corporation is about to restart the $150-million expansion it started before the pipeline project was halted last summer.

Spokesman Mike Lowry said the company is ready to start again to establish new bases and augment existing ones in the region.

“For us, it’s just a question of are we moving ahead or not?” he said. “When the [pipeline project] was quashed last August, we had to put all our work on hold. A lot was in the works, some was finished and some we put on hold.”

That came when the pipeline project, purchased by the federal government for $4.5 billion, was paused after the Federal Court of Appeal struck down the initial approval, citing the National Energy Board’s failure to consider marine impacts and inadequate First Nations consultation.

After an energy board review of the effects on marine life and further Indigenous consultation, the federal cabinet announced Tuesday it was approving the project for a second time. The expansion will triple the capacity of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, which runs from the Edmonton area to Burnaby, and increase tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet seven-fold.

Lowry said with that news they dusted off the expansion plans.

“Where we’re at now is we have leases in place for all the bases and now we will be able to issue construction tenders to move ahead,” he said.

The Burnaby-based firm, which is responsible for dealing with oil spills around Vancouver Island, the Strait of Georgia and Metro Vancouver’s coastline, has a massive expansion of its network of response bases on the agenda.

The plan includes establishing or improving bases at Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Ucluelet, Sidney, Beecher Bay and the Lower Mainland, adding more than 100 new jobs and as many as 40 new vessels to deal with potential oil spills as a result of increased tanker traffic. Oil tanker traffic in the area is expected to increase to 30 or so vessels per month from the current five or six.

Lowry said they will immediately be restarting the boat building program. They have to build landing craft, response barges and mini barges.

This spring the company took delivery of three $5.8-million sturdy response vessels, which had initially been moored in Nanaimo. One of them has been crewed and moved to Vancouver temporarily. The company will now hire crew for the other two 82-foot vessels. They will eventually be based in Nanaimo, Beecher Bay and Ucluelet.

Four smaller workboats and a skimming vessel have also been delivered.

Lowry said they will try to pace their spending and work to that of Trans Mountain.

“But we have an obligation to be ready six months ahead, that’s a National Energy Board requirement,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury to sit and wait till the legal side is finished. That will play out, but we will start work when Trans Mountain starts work.”

Trans Mountain has said oil could be flowing in new segments of the pipeline between Edmonton and the West Coast by mid 2022.

Lowry said they are already well prepared for tanker traffic in the area given they deal with existing oil tankers from Vancouver and Washington state as well as the thousands of deep sea vessels that pass through.

“We are prepared for all of that and these enhancements just improve that capacity,” he said.

B.C. Coast Pilots is also ready for the increased work load. Captain Robin Stewart said the association’s complement of 120 pilots, and another half dozen on the waiting list, will be able to handle the increased work.

“We’ve been building up our numbers to deal with LNG and Trans Mountain over the last several years,” he said.

Regulations require two pilots in command of the vessels both on their way in and out of Vancouver. Inbound tankers pick up pilots just off Victoria to bring the vessel into the terminal in Burrard Inlet.

Two pilots are also in command to navigate the way out. There are also three, sometimes four, tugboats accompanying tankers through Vancouver’s harbour.

Another tug escorts the vessel from Saturna Island to beyond Victoria.

Stewart said there has been discussion about pilots staying in command until the vessel gets to Buoy Juliet, about 16 kilometres off Vancouver Island.

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