GAFA seeks promises of fair and substantive studies into anchorage issues

Gabriolans Against Freighter Anchorages

Special to the Sounder

Tuesday, March 27 2018

Representatives of Gabriolans Against Freighter Anchorages took full advantage of a federal government conference on protecting Canada’s oceans last week to make sure local concerns were being heard. GAFA’s Keith Hamilton and Chris Straw attended the second in a series of “dialogue” sessions about the federal government’s 1.5 billion dollar Ocean Protection Plan (OPP) in Vancouver. The forum included close to 150 representatives from government, environmental and community groups, marine industries, BC ports and First Nations. It covered topics ranging from a new satellite based Maritime Awareness Information System to oil spill and emergency response, the cumulative effects of Marine Shipping on the environment and the future of freighter anchorages.

According to Keith Hamilton, the original agenda for the 2 day conference allowed just 40 minutes to talk about anchorage issues which are the source of great concern throughout the Southern Gulf Islands.  “Even before we arrived in Vancouver, GAFA and the other Gulf Island and First Nation groups made it clear that 40 minutes was not going to be enough time to talk about anchorages.”  After some last minute discussions, Transport Canada agreed to additional face to face meetings with the two senior government officials heading up the National Anchorages Initiative.

“It felt good to finally sit across the table from the people charged with planning the future of commercial anchorages on the west coast and ask direct questions about how and when decisions will be made.”  said GAFA President Chris Straw

“For starters, we asked why the government accepts industry’s argument that more than 30 overflow anchorages are needed outside the port when they haven’t event looked at all the factors that are slowing down the supply chain in Vancouver.”

According to documents circulated at the meeting, Transport Canada, with the help of DFO and the Environment Ministry, will be drawing up terms of reference for a series of studies into the environmental, social and economic impacts of anchoring ships adjacent to gulf island and south coast communities. 

 “During the course of these meetings, Transport Canada officials promised to look into many of the issues we’ve been raising for more than 2 years now” said Keith Hamilton. “Things  like the risk of ships grounding, the impacts of  anchor chains scouring the sea bed, noise and light pollution, etc., were all put on the table. Our job going forward will be to make sure that research actually gets done and with the appropriate level of detail”

Transport Canada also said it intends to conduct data analysis into ship traffic in and out of the Vancouver port, including patterns of anchorage use, wait times etc. GAFA has been conducting its own research into these trends since its inception in 2015.

The results of all of this research and consultation will be used to draft the federal government’s framework for how to manage anchorages outside Federal Port Authority jurisdictions and to establish an official process for identifying new anchorage sites.  As part of the overall decision making process, an inter-departmental working group will pull together specialists from Transport Canada, DFO, Environment and Climate Change, Parks Canada and the Pacific Pilotage Authority, to review and analyze the findings. A draft of the framework is expected to be completed early in 2019.

Transport Canada has committed to sharing feedback from community groups like GAFA as well as First Nations on the framework before it is finalized.  They’ve also set up a website for comments and ideas at https://letstalktransportation.ca/OPP

“What we need to do now is hold their feet to the fire and make sure nobody ignores the many strong reasons why anchoring huge ships in and around the pristine waters of the Southern Gulf Islands is both inappropriate and dangerous” says Chris Straw. “It’s important that we keep up the pressure and keep writing letters to local, provincial and federal politicians. GAFA will continue to share the local knowledge and research that we are gathering with the powers that be and it’s up to all of us to keep a close eye on every step of this process to ensure the right decisions are made. The shipping industry has had free reign over these waters for far too long and the time has come to find a better way.” 

For more information or to volunteer with GAFA write to GAFAsociety@gmail.com