Environment Minister Terry Lake provided an update on the government response to the debris from the Japanese tsunami that has begun washing up on the shores of BC, and said the group responsible for handling it is getting set to move onto the next stage of planning.
Lake estimates that there is 1.5 million tonnes of debris floating in the pacific from the tsunami, though he expects only a small percentage to wash up in BC. Phase one had to do with formulating a response to the debris, now the provincial and federal government are looking at how to handle what has and will wash up.
“Phase II will focus on how to get rid of the stuff when it does wash up. We’re looking at options for landfills, recycling and disposal. This plan will be scalable,” said Lake, noting the next phase also includes a framework for volunteer participation in the clean up efforts.
“We think [storage] is more than manageable, but we don’t want to rely solely on the science…If it turns out this is larger than anticipated we want to be ready for that,” added Robin Brown with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
However, Lake said people should not expect that a complete clean up of the debris will be carried out.
“Some of the areas this is washing up are remote or not accessible…We have to manage our response to where we are not putting people at risk and we need to recognize that we won’t be in a position to pick up every piece of debris that washes up,” said Lake, noting that phase II also increases monitoring for potentially invasive species.
“It’s very important we don’t let that genie out of the bottle.”
As for who is responsible for the clean up and covering the cost of picking up and disposing of the debris, Lake said it is going to take a concerted effort from all levels of government and the people of the province.
“Nobody has the sole responsibility or jurisdiction to manage the debris that is expected to wash ashore. It is going to take resources and effort from a range of groups,” he said, noting that the provincial and federal governments are trying to limit the cost to municipalities but that there would be some costs.
“We don’t expect [municipal governments] to bear the brunt of this. There is debris that washes up on a regular basis that they deal with, so we need to talk to them to see what the incremental costs are. We will work with them to make sure they’re not left holding the bag…That their taxpayers aren’t left paying for all of this.”
More information on the debris from the Japanese tsunami, including an area where people can report sightings, is available at tsunamidebrisbc.ca.