A Western Canada Marine Response Corporation vessel participated in a spill response simulation near the Southern Gulf Islands in June, 2017. (WCMRC)

New spill response bases on hold as pipeline paused

Future of six new bases, 125 jobs, on in limbo over Kinder Morgan decision

All work on five new spill response bases on Vancouver Island and one in Richmond, is on hold after Kinder Morgan announced last Sunday that it was stopping all non-essential work on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

Michael Lowry, manager of communications for Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC), says they’ve halted all capital investment on six new spill bases — at Sidney, Beecher Bay, Ucluelet, Nanaimo, Richmond and Port Alberni.

At their new base in Port Alberni, construction had already started but will now stop, barring safety monitoring at the work site.

“There’s some work that’s been done on the wharf and that work will continue,” said Lowry in an interview with the Alberni Valley News. “The construction of our main base on the port property will be on hold.”

RELATED: Oil spill response simulation

A wharf is partially built along Port Alberni’s waterfront where some of the vessels would have been housed. The decking will be completed, including paving and railing installation to make the site safe, said Port Alberni Port Authority CEO Zoran Knezevic.

“We’re disappointed that Kinder Morgan has halted their decision and that subsequently put on hold the development of the WCMRC project here,” Knezevic said. “It affects more than our jobs plan development.”

Knezevic said the spill response base in Port Alberni would have employed 22 people, and included “five or six” vessels.

Lowry said the company already had a pair of small barges moored at the Van Isle Marina near Sidney, where they had planned to keep their ocean-based vessels for the Sidney base. WCMRC had found land at the Victoria International Airport on which to build their Sidney office and warehouse — but that work is now on hold. Lowry had said in June of 2017 that the Sidney base could be ready as early as June of this year.

WCMRC operates on funding by industry and is regulated by the federal government. The six new bases, vessels and spill response equipment are part of the conditions of the pipeline’s approval by the National Energy Board. $150 million was earmarked for a spill response plan and was expected to create approximately 125 new jobs. Without the pipeline, Lowry said, that money will not come from industry and the new bases would likely not proceed.

“This would be a significant loss to the west coast marine community,” Lowry said. “These bases were going to be for any kind of spill. They will be a significant loss if they don’t go forward.”

Construction is now on hold, said Lowry, contingent upon whether Trans Mountain proceeds. Kinder Morgan has given the federal government until May 31 to assure the company that the pipeline can be built in B.C.

RELATED: B.C., Alberta clash as Kinder Morgan suspends Trans Mountain work

Kinder Morgan paused all non-essential work on the pipeline project in response to the B.C. government’s assertion that the province has the right to defend its interests, based on environmental concerns with the pipeline. Protesters have been present for months on Burnaby Mountain, trying to disrupt the work.

RELATED: Elizabeth May arrested at Kinder Morgan protest

While capital expenditures on the spill bases have stopped, Lowry noted that WCMRC continues work on design, hiring plans and the coastal spill response plan — and how the new bases would fit into that. He said construction would not proceed until the fate of the pipeline is decided.

— with files from the Alberni Valley News/Black Press

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