MLA questions preparedness of government to deal with tsunami debris

MLA Gary Coons took the provincial government to task for what he sees as a lack of a plan to deal with debris from the Japanese tsunami.

North Coast MLA Gary Coons took the provincial government to task on May 16 for what he sees as a lack of a plan to deal with the massive amount of debris from the Japanese tsunami expected to wash up on the west coast in the coming years.

The issue was raised in the Legislature, with Coons and Minister of Environment Terry Lake going back and forth on what the government is or isn’t doing to help effected communities, including those on Haida Gwaii.

Last January the minister said he’d begin working with national and municipal officials to get ready. Well, it’s four months later, and local communities are still waiting. Regional districts are concerned about landfill issues and what to do with the debris being collected. The mayor of Masset has called for a broader coordinated effort involving all levels of government. Robert Mills, chief councillor of the Skidegate band, says the Haida’s first concern right now is the debris…when is this Liberal government finally going to step in and work with local governments and First Nations to put forward a real plan to deal with the growing tsunami debris on our shores,” asked Coons.

We have formed a joint advisory committee with the federal government. We are working with local governments. We are working with First Nations. We are working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States, along with our west coast partners in Washington State, Oregon and Alaska. There is no doubt that this will pose a challenge for all of us living on the west coast. But we are actively planning; we are working with volunteer groups. Anyone who finds any tsunami debris can go to our webpage, Ministry of Environment, and can register the material…We coordinated that response, and we will be ready when the majority of that debris arrives on our shores in 2013,” responded the minister.

However, Coons wasn’t happy with that answer, and says the committee formed has been largely ineffective.

Here in B.C. the draft meeting minutes from the March 19 Japan tsunami debris coordination committee, which the minister talks about, noted that neither the terms of reference or the proposed organization structure was ready yet. On Haida Gwaii last night, Masset and Old Massett held a joint council meeting. Ken Rae, chief councillor of Old Massett, asked why the province still hasn’t provided any direction. He has a quote: ‘What is the holdup? Why hasn’t the minister begun coordinating with First Nations and coastal communities to start the cleanup process and deal with landfill issues?’,” he said.

Noting discussions taking place with Washington State, the Federal Government and First Nations, Minister Lake said it was important to ensure the situation was handled properly.

Despite what the member opposite may believe, we are coordinating this effort. We are working very closely with all the members of our team, and we do realize that this will take a huge effort on the part of government and on the part of volunteers up and down the coast. But the sky is definitely not falling. We have time to prepare properly and responsibly. Anyone who finds any debris — I invite them to visit the Ministry of Environment webpage. They can register that debris at that e-mail address,” he said.

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