Coast guard cuts in Ucluelet could impact Alberni Inlet

The coast guard cuts to its communication station in Ucluelet may be felt in Alberni, but not the auxiliary unit, chief Ian Arklie said.

The Coast Guard vessel Atlin Post motors away from its base in Ucluelet towards the Broken Group.

The Canada Coast Guard Marine Communications and Traffic Centre in Ucluelet, which employs people from Port Alberni and the West Coast, will close in 2015, a victim of recent budget cuts.

It’s too early to tell what the total effect will be to marine traffic in the region, but the coast guard auxiliary unit located in Port Alberni likely won’t feel any pain, unit chief Ian Arklie said.

As part of a cost cutting measure, Canada Coast Guard announced that it is reducing the number of its communications centres from five to two.

Operations in Ucluelet, Comox and Vancouver are being mothballed. The Ucluelet and Comox operations will be re-routed to either Victoria or Prince Rupert. Vancouver’s will be handled in Victoria.

The Victoria station regulates marine traffic that comes into and out of the Juan de Fuca Strait. It also monitors distress calls  and helps coordinate search and rescue operations.

The coast guard stations in Bamfield and Tofino will remain operational.

(Bamfield’s station is undergoing an expansion for the rigid hull inflatable operator training school that operates year-round. No completion date has been announced for the work.)

According to Canadian Auto Workers Local 2182 spokesperson Allan Hughes, approximately 55 workers in Comox and Ucluelet will be affected. “They’ll all likely be re-assigned and absorbed somewhere else,” Hughes said.

The move won’t impact the local coast guard auxiliary, Arklie said. “We’ve been told by Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary Pacific Region that there shouldn’t be any impact to us.”

When the local coast guard auxiliary is dispatched by the Joint Rescue Centre in Victoria they communicate with the station in Ucluelet. After pieces are moved around the board in 2015, the only change will be who auxiliary members communicate with when dispatched to a marine incident.

“We’ll be communicating with either Victoria or Prince Rupert now instead of Ucluelet but we don’t know yet which one,” Arklie said.

The only issue Arklie says he’s concerned about is the equipment that is installed after the switch takes place.

“There’s a couple of (communication) dead zones down the canal. I hope they install repeater stations to help rectify that,” Arklie said.

One of the CAW’s concerns is the overload caused from re-locating the Ucluelet operation, Hughes said. When combined, 30 radio sites will have to be monitored between Washington State and Alaska.

“Eighty per cent of the coastal coverage will be done out of Prince Rupert,” he said.

Ucluelet will be impacted by its station closure because its re-assigned officers will take critical local knowledge with them.

“Even though places are named on a chart, locals often know them by other names,” Hughes said.

“If someone calls and says they’re on Finger Bank or Big Bank, locals will know exactly where that is but others might not.”

The shelving of the Comox marine communications station has particular connotations for Port Alberni, Hughes said.

The Comox centre is the point of dissemination for tsunami warnings that go out to centres on the coast including Port Alberni, he said.

If the centre is moved to Prince Rupert or Victoria, those stations are ensconced in tsunami hazard zones and will have to be evacuated in the case of an event, Hughes said.

“There’ll be no one to give notice to small coastal communities,” Hughes said. An initial warning may be broadcast, “but there will be no followup.”

The matter hasn’t come up with the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, chief administrative officer Russell Dyson said.

“The board hasn’t contemplated the changes by the coast guard facilities,” said Dyson, who doubles as the local Emergency Operations Centre co-ordinator. “There’s been no consideration and they haven’t taken a position.”

Dyson could’t comment about the Comox station’s place in the tsunami warning pecking order. But local emergency officials take their queues — including those about tsunami’s — from Emergency Management BC, he said.

“They’ve not informed us of any changes,” Dyson said.

Coastal communities don’t have to worry about being warned of tsunamis, an Emergency Management BC spokesperson said.

“The West Coast Alaska Tsunami Warning Center will continue to issue tsunami bulletins to EMBC through established protocols,” the spokesperson said.

“EMBC will continue to notify communities (including Tofino, Ucluelet and Port Alberni), agencies and media of a potential tsunami by initiating the Provincial Emergency Notification System (PENS).

The Canadian Coast Guard is on the PENS list and will continue to receive tsunami information, the spokesperson said.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com

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