Vexed and distressed, Squamish environmentalist John Buchanan wants answers. While roaming the Estuary last Monday, he saw dredging activity underway at the West Berth of Squamish Terminals — the very site of the Westwood Annette haul breach two years ago that saw 29,000 litres of diesel fuel spill into the water system.
“You don’t have to be a scientist to know there’s going to be oil in those sediments,” said Buchanan, who researches oil spills for the Squamish Environmental Conservation Society (SECS).
“I’m part of SECS. You would’ve thought they’d sit down with us to discuss a dredging plan.”
Buchanan worried that oil contained in soil sediments could be stirred up anew.
According to Ron Anderson, president and CEO of Squamish Terminals, the dredging was necessary and testing was done.
“The entire area was tested prior to anything being done. All those results had to go into the people with SERC (Squamish Estuary Review Committee), and they’ve viewed all the samples that went in.”
Calling it a necessity, Edith Tobe, a biologist with the Squamish River Watershed Society (SRSW), said there’s nothing unusual about dredging the berths. However, the timing gave her a jolt. Not only did the activity take place on a holiday Monday, it was also conducted a few months before the traditional timeframe, which begins in August and runs until February.
“I found it really interesting that it was on a holiday Monday,” she said. “Why would they do this do on a holiday Monday? It sets off alarm bells.”
After Buchanan informed her of the activity, she punched out a salvo of e-mails, almost immediately hearing back from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
In an e-mail attributed to DFO habitat biologist Brain Naito and provided to Pique Newsmagazine by Tobe, “…Squamish Terminals advised that some maintenance dredging is required as soon as possible to create enough depth in the Berth for ships to safely moor.”
Anderson said Squamish Terminals could only secure the machinery on the holiday, and that it did so at considerable cost — a budgetary burden he’d have rather avoided.
The e-mail went on to say that a monitor was present, and that the material was cleared by Environment Canada for disposal at sea.
“This leads me to a big question,” said Buchanan, who insists he is not anti-industry. “What the hell is Canada’s ocean dumping standard? Sounds like you can throw in anything under the sun.”
“I have to trust that Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada know what they’re doing,” said Tobe, adding that if oil is visible, then it qualifies as a concern.
At heart, the issue seems to revolve around a communications problem. While Anderson said the terminal is only obliged to inform SECS, Tobe said the Squamish Estuary Management Committee should also be kept abreast of any activity that could affect the estuary.