GAFA continuing to put pressure on Transport Canada to kill anchorage application

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, January 23 2018

The Gabriolans Against Freighter Anchorages (GAFA) continue to work to prevent the establishment of five anchorages off Gabriola’s north-east shoreline.

That fight began in 2015 when it was reported in the Sounder that the Pacific Pilotage Authority and Chamber of Shipping BC were wanting a place to park Cape-sized vessels somewhere while they waited to enter the Port of Vancouver.

This past Saturday afternoon, GAFA hosted a presentation on what has happened over the past three years since news of the proposed anchorages first broke.

Though there has been much quiet in the past year in the public eye, those involved with GAFA have been in touch and communicating with officials from Transport Canada. Gabriola’s MP Sheila Malcolmson, as a member of the opposition NDP party, has also made it an issue in the House of Commons whenever possible, describing the negative impact the anchorages would have on Gabriola.

Chris Straw, president of GAFA, said it has been a learning curve for both GAFA and Transport Canada.

“Transport Canada does not have a lot of experience dealing with people and communities. They deal with airlines, railway companies, transport people. 

“They haven’t had to do a lot working with the lay people, the ones who live in these communities. We’ve been giving presentations to anyone who will listen.”

The list of concerns with the anchorages have not changed. Straw said they have worked with a number of marine experts who have pointed to how unsafe the proposed sites are.

“We do believe this is an unsafe plan. The winds that just race through there. We’ve been told by experienced mariners. We believe these ships will drag anchor, the catastrophic effect being one of these ships going aground.”

There is a concern for the future of wildlife which depend on that side of Gabriola for key habitat.

“We also know the anchor chairs scour the seabed. There will be an impact on fish, whales, marine wildlife, and their habitat.

“Increased presence of ships is going to add to the underwater noise. We know that can have an impact on orcas. This will also increase the risk of ship and whale collisions.

“The list of species impacted is a long one.”

Straw said there is an expected impact on the local economy.

“This is not a rich island. 

“There are wealthy people, wealthy homeowners. But there are a number of people who rely on the local economy, who live a week away from not breaking even.”

He explained sport fishing businesses have said they could lose 20 to 25% of their business if these anchorages are placed in what is one of Gabriola’s prime sport fishing areas.

Straw added that up until recently there has been very little consultation by Transport Canada with local First Nations communities.

“I had opportunity to talk to Sheila and Doug White III from Snuneymuxw First Nation. In a way, it was interesting to hear the concerns we are talking about are shared ones.”

Straw said on the flip side of the economic argument, there is no proven business need for these anchorages.

“We are challenging the government and industry to prove us wrong.”

He described how if ships are waiting for 20 to 30 days at anchor, doing nothing, they are not adding to the Canadian economy.

“Inefficiencies like this do not contribute to the economy. The same amount of goods - tennis shoes or anything else - are moving through that port whether or not someone gets here and waits for 30 days in a gulf island parking lot. This assumption, this starting point, that these are needed for a successful port, we don’t accept that premise and we need to challenge that.”

When ships use the anchorages - and there are 29 of them inside the southern Gulf Islands from Protection Island all the way to Victoria - they do not have to pay a fee to anchor there.

What this means is the Port of Vancouver can, as an incentive, offer up anchorages as places for ships to park, when those ships may have otherwise have had to pay docking or anchorage fees in another port outside Canada.

Where GAFA is now

Straw said, “GAFA’s primary focus has been, and continues to be, to stop the proposal off the north-east shore of Gabriola.

“But the increase in the anchorage use has woken people up as well who say this is a mistake, and should never have been allowed to happen. We’re all starting to say we’re in this together and should not have to battle that.”

He said other communities are having issues with the existing anchorages, and that has brought to light how unregulated, and inefficient, the current system of shipping on the west coast is.

“There are 79 places to anchor for commercial ships in the waters of BC. 

“Are we running an anchorage operation? Or a port?

“We are saying there should not be an unregulated process for this. If reducing anchorages is good for Gabriola, it is also good for the efficiency of a port.”

Those involved with the overall gulf island anchorage issue say the situation throughout the gulf islands is the impact of heavy industry spilling over from the ports - allowed to happen in the 1970s (pre-Islands Trust) when people had a different view of the environment and the gulf islands.

This past summer, Transport Canada announced a sweeping review looking at the whole system of anchorages on the west coast.

Currently, said Straw, Canada has no formal process to identify anchorages and guide vessel behaviour outside of port boundaries.

“There are no regulations or oversight guiding these 300m vessels. 

“If there is a complaint, you phone the PPA complaint line and they call an agent, a private business individual and ask them to please call the ship and ask if there is anything to redirect the light and please turn them down. 

“These are regularly ignored by foreign ships, they are not beholden to the residents of Canada.”

Transport Canada has said it will be trying to mitigate the impact anchored vessels have on the local communities.

As Straw said, “how seriously will they take them?

“If you want to park a 300m factory in front of my house, I don’t care how much mitigation you use, the solution is to get it out of there. 

“What we have now is to ask them to do certain things, but there are no regulations [requiring them to do anything].

“We have situations coming from communities where an anchorage exists, someone calls the complaint line and gets told there is no ship there, when they can stand there and see the ship.”

The review does have a public component - available at letstalktransportation.ca/OPP - and as Straw said, everyone is welcome and encouraged to use that process.

“But we will also use public pressure and other avenues that open up to us.

“We feel they are listening, and we want to take advantage of the situation that we can.

“What I’ve asked is the Minister take the Gabriola application off the table. Kill it. It doesn’t mater why, it it illegitimate to have these two processes [the overall review and the Gabriola anchorage application] going at the same time.”

Themes of where the anchorage issue is going to be tackled:

The current system is inefficient - neither business nor local communities win when ships sit still for 30 days at a time.

The environment - whales - noise, collision, decline of chinook salmon, decline of overall habitat.

Coal - part of the push for the anchorages came from ships which want to carry Wyoming coal from North America over to Asia. The ports in the United States have banned the shipment of such coal, so the companies are now routing through Canadian ports.

As Straw said, “this contradicts our own CO2 policy, there is nothing in it for Canada. 

“We go all over the world preaching about climate change, and we’re allowing this to go on. We need to hammer them.

Gulf Islands - a place for eco tourism, a protected place, not for heavy industry. 

“If you flew from Gabriola to Pender, you would see ships parked everywhere. No one thinks of these as the place where the Port of VAncouver parks ships.”

Respect for First Nations - there is a lack of respect from TC in working with local First Nations. As MP Malcolmson pointed out, a good portion of the beach along where the Gabriola anchorages are proposed is part of the Kensington Treaty Lands, which are going to be First Nations.

“I know a lot of you in the room have a personal passion for Canada to learn things at a community level - if the PM is going to walk his talk, he would kill this application as part of his nation to nation building”

Port of Vancouver - Straw said the Vancouver port is doing a lot of PR right now about how responsible they are regarding whales. 

“They are ignoring their footprint outside of the port. If you want to make speeches about the triple bottom line - then prove it. Clean up this situation in the Gulf Islands.”