By Vivian Moreau
Lawyers for the ship that fouled Squamish estuary after a
30,000-litre fuel spill in August are challenging the provincial Ministry of
Environment’s clean-up orders.
Contending that the province has no jurisdiction over
ship-source pollution, maritime lawyers for Gearbulk Canada, owners of the
Norwegian cargo ship Westwood Anette, recently filed an appeal with the
provincial Environmental Appeal Board.
Shortly after the Aug. 4 incident in which the Westwood Anette
bumped Squamish terminal pilings and punctured a fuel tank, allowing high winds
to push ship fuel into adjacent estuary channels, the province issued Gearbulk
Canada with a three-part pollution abatement order.
Peter Swanson, a founding partner in Vancouver-based Bernard
and Partners, represents the ship owners and has asked for a stay on two of the
province’s three orders that deal with implementation of wildlife and
environmental impact assessment plans.
“We say that the province cannot constitutionally legislate
with respect to ship-source pollution,” Swanson said from his Vancouver office,
“and the Environmental Act under which they issued the pollution abatement
order is purporting to do something that we say they cannot do
Although environmental consultants hired by the ship owners
completed environmental assessments by a Sept. 30 deadline imposed by the
province, Gearbulk Canada is balking at continued long-term monitoring.
Swanson says company’s lack of fault in the accident, as
determined by federal Transportation Safety Board, and the fact that the
province has never before issued a ship-source pollution abatement order
prompted the appeal.
“It really is just a question of who, if anyone, can tell us
what to do,” Swanson said, “and our position is that we should be dealing with
the federal government on these things, not the provincial government.”
Ministry of Environment lawyers have agreed to a stay on two of
the three items in the pollution abatement order pending the appeal, expected
to be heard in February.
Swanson maintains that all estuary clean-up work has been
completed and discounted District of Squamish’s concerns about high levels of
bunker sea fuel residue remaining in estuary sediments. Sediment sampling
authorized by the district show levels of hydrocarbons, chemicals found in
bunker sea fuel, almost 1,000 times provincial safety standards.
“I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but you have to look to the
experts — Ministry of Environment and federal Environment Canada —
and say are the experts satisfied with what’s happening? In this case the
answer is yes they are.”
Coast Guard officials agree.
“We’re not concerned (about high levels of hydrocarbons)
because federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, U.S. and U.K. science
information that’s out there says those chemicals are benign and they have the
experience of hundreds of spills behind them,” Coast Guard spokesperson Dan
Bate said. “The amount of damage caused going into the marsh with an excavator
would far exceed any risk from those contaminants.”
Disturbing mercury deposits already present in estuary sediment
from heavy metal weathering would prove more harmful than weathered oil, he
Squamish’s environment coordinator says there are only pockets
of mercury deposits within the estuary and maintains it is better to scoop out
the whole mess rather than let it brew.
“It makes absolutely no sense that you don’t remove hydrocarbon contamination in the estuary because it’s already contaminated with mercury,” Francesca Knight said. “If you were going to make the case that we need to get these hydrocarbons out of there you’re only going to be benefiting the mercury situation.”