Flotilla of Gabriola boaters demonstrates what Capesize ships would look like up close to Whalebone

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, August 18 2015

Photo courtesy Alex Strachan Aerial Drone Photography

This past Sunday, Augst 9, one of the largest collection of boaters in recent memory set sail from Gabriola’s Silva Bay to protest the five anchorages being proposed by the BC Chamber of Shipping and Pacific Pilotage Authority for siting off Gabriola’s north-east shoreline.

Sailboats, motorboats, kayakers, stand-up-paddleboarders - at least 70 boats of all shapes and sizes took place in the protest August 9 at one of the proposed anchorage sites off Gabriola. Photo courtesy Tina Kirschner 

As reported previously in the Sounder, the five sites will be located 800m from shore and are intended to be for Capesize vessels waiting to get in to Port Vancouver for unloading and loading.

Since the issue was first reported in the July 7 Sounder, islanders have put together a group called Gabriola Anchor-RAGE and the protest on the ninth was the group’s ‘coming-out’ event, with over 60 boats, 20 kayaks, and a pod of orcas taking part.

Once the group arrived at the anchorages area, the boats fanned out, forming the ‘footprint’ of one of the Capesize vessels which would anchor there. Average length of Capesize is 300 meters. Depending on the swing of the anchor chain and channel direction, that puts vessels’ sterns entirely too close to the beaches and tidal environment for Anchor-RAGE members and supporters.

The orca’s timing, according to co-organizer Debbie Cook, “was brilliant. That was very exciting.”

Photo courtesy Alex Strachan Aerial Drone Photography

Another 300 people were on shore on the beaches off Whalebone Drive joining in on the protest.

Cook said the group knows the federal PPA has said the proposal is now on hold till this winter, but Anchor-RAGE will be focusing its efforts on preparing for the public consultation that the PPA says will now happen.

As she pointed out, the proposal was first floated as part of the 2011 Annual meeting of the BC Chamber of Shipping.

Since then, as Cook says, there hasn’t been any public process involving Gabriolans, who would be most impacted by the noise and light pollution thrown off by the ships.

She said now that the PPA and BC Chamber of Shipping are getting feedback from islanders, apparently that has generated the need for public meetings.

Ahead of those meetings, Anchor-RAGE is putting funds together to continue working on researching ways to stop the anchorages, as well as conduct it’s own environmental study - to look at the impact the use of the anchorages would have on ‘The Grande’ - as the underwater shelf  on that side of Gabriola is called.

There will also be another sub-group of Anchor-RAGE continuing with a media push to get word of this proposal out to the larger BC audience.

Volunteers with Anchor-RAGE have already contributed $500 cash to get the official Society formed. Cook said if the volunteer hours put in to fighting the protest were calculated at a minimum wage, “this has cost us $100,000 to date. To actually fight this, we need people with skills in many different areas.”

Part of the reason the anchorages are coming to Gabriola is because other communities within the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island have already made noise about the ships anchoring and disturbing them.

Cook said, “This is so a short-sighted. Along with these five, the PPA is already saying it needs five more somewhere. So we know other islands can anticipate the same problem.

“The ecology of the Gulf Islands is unique - there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world.”

In terms of where the ships should be, Cook said Anchor-RAGE is asking, “Why wouldn’t you increase the berths available in Port of Vancouver. 

“Why wouldn’t they spend the money to create a tightly organized system - maybe it’ll take 10-15 years - but that is what strategic planning is for. 

“That’s what I feel the solution is. Berths need to be developed for the Capesize vessels.”

She also pointed out within the areas covered by Port Vancouver and Nanaimo Port Authority jurisdictions, there are clear rules on who is monitoring safety and environmental concerns.

In the outer anchorages, such as those proposed off Gabriola, where only Transport Canada has any jurisdiction, Cook asks, “Who monitors safety? No one is claiming it. When that first fuel spill happens - what happens?

“There are so many leads to follow - they (the proponents) are brilliant to make it difficult to follow the chain along.”

To get back to the protest, Cook said there was a young person, identified as James, who she re-quoted saying, “this is my home, this is our island, this is our future. This is our future, we, the young and old, are opposed to this short-sighted response to a complex problem.”

At the protest, and with interviews with major media outlets, Cook said she spoke, “on the environmental impact, the noise (under and over the water), the lights, idling of engines, the fact they have to blow their fog horns during fog season - three months of the year on that side of the island - I spoke to our tourism industry, sport fishers, recreational fishers, the safety issues if there is a spill, or fire, or in our winds, one of these ships drags anchor in to the cliffs, the lack of a close-by response team.

“But every single time [I spoke to mass media] they hit on the NIMBY [Not-In-My-Back-Yard] arguments.”

She pointed out it is clear this is an issue bigger than Gabriola. “This actually is bigger than just five ships. Thousands of residents up and down the gulf islands have had zero voice in this process because there hasn’t been a process. BC Chamber of Shipping gets its organizations together and says ok, let’s do this.

“The question is - where does the individual have any say when actions are about to be taken that impact thousands of people and there is no recourse?”