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Port Edward mayor pleads for govt. assistance after near environmental mishap

Requests for help to remove derelict sea vessels have gone unresponded to, says North Coast mayor

More details are coming to light after two abandoned sea vessels were on the loose attached to a dock that broke away in a Port Edward harbour on Sept. 8, with municipality mayor, Knut Bjorndal, calling on all levels of government for immediate assistance in removing the vessels.

Bjorndal said people of the municipality feel like second-class citizens after years of requests for assistance to remove the vessels due to escalating environmental concerns with leftover oil, drums of unknown chemicals and pressurized gasses in tanks. However, the requests have been ignored by various levels of government, the mayor said. He believes it is an “out of sight, out of mind” issue that smaller municipalities suffer compared to larger, more visible urban cities.

A copy of a Dec. 30, 2020 letter addressed to Transport Canada Minister Marc Garneau, and Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard Minister Bernadette Jordan, from the District of Port Edward expresses urgent concern regarding the two abandoned vessels in Porpoise Harbour. The letter states while worries have been brought to the attention of Prince Rupert Port Authority about the abandoned vessels on their property, which is federal land, PPRA has not been able to expedite the removal.

“… we understand that local response from the Canadian Coast Guard has been necessary to apply temporary measures to keep the vessels from fully sinking or breaking loose from their moorage. It is our understanding that the vessels hold significant potential for environmental impact if that were to occur,” the letter, signed by Bjorndal, states.

Bjorndal said he had not received a response or acknowledgment of the correspondence. In an ironic twist, he said he had reached out to the Minister of Environment to express concerns and beseech assistance just 12 hours before the vessels broke loose.

Inquiries made to various ministries by The Northern View regarding the correspondence and incident were directed back to the Canadian Coast Guard.

Michelle Imbeau, communications advisor for the Canadian Coast Guard, said in an email on Sept. 9, “On behalf of the Canadian Coast Guard, here is the information I can provide about the two vessels:

· Coast Guard’s Environmental Response conducted an assessment of the vessels yesterday (Sept. 8) and determined that they were a low risk to pollute as hydrocarbons have previously been removed from both of these vessels.

· Coast Guard’s Vessels of Concern Program is currently conducting an updated hazard assessment on the vessels and is working with the Prince Rupert Port Authority and Transport Canada to determine short and long-term ways forward. The hazard assessment includes impacts to public safety.

At this time, Coast Guard doesn’t have anything further to add.”

Ken Veldman, vice president of public affairs and sustainability for the Prince Rupert Port Authority, said the vessels had been left over by the property’s previous tenant, which ran a fishing company from 2014. The lease ended more than a year ago, however, the vessels were never authorized by the PRPA to be placed on the property. Despite promises from the tenant, the vessels have not been removed.

“Since the end of that lease, we have been quite active in terms of seeking their removal from the water lot, and certainly, Mayor Bjorndal has been a collaborative partner in asking for assistance from federal agencies to remove those abandoned vessels.”

While the pier near the derelict vessels had been fenced off to the public, the docks and moorings were inspected on a regular basis. However, Veldman said the vessels didn’t become unmoored as reported, but it was the dock they were tethered to that broke away. The tides then pushed them onto shore with the dock still attached, he said.

“… Along those lines, the pier itself was not damaged … so, it was just the dock that was attached to it,” he said, so even though it was previously stated that the dock and pier were 70-80 years old, the structures have been maintained and upgraded.

“It’s been significantly rebuilt over time and over the years. So, it’s not like it’s an 80-year-old structure that’s never been touched before.”

Veldeman wanted to clarify that the $2 million to $4 million mentioned around the vessels was for estimates to remove, remediate and decommission the barge and boat from the site.

“Along with decommissioning, of course, is the remediation of any hazardous materials that are inside, etc. Those are costs that are unrelated to this incident,” he said, adding the actual incident damages were minor, and there were no significant amounts other than the response costs.

The 150 ft. boat and the 90 ft. barge are already listed on the government vessels of concern list, and Veldmen said are probably the most significant in this area. Despite this, the PRPA has also been unsuccessful in getting any assistance to remove the vessels.

“What I can say is, are there environmental concerns with that vessel if it sunk? Absolutely. And that’s why we have been engaged to ensure these non-authorized abandoned, derelict fishing vessels that have been left on our property are dealt with from a maintenance perspective as soon as possible,” he said.

Veldman said he believes both the federal government and the Canadian Coast Guard, within their programs and mandate, have roles to play in this situation. PRPA has been engaging in mandating safety and security as a commitment to be part of the solution.

“That being said, we don’t have the means to deal with this by ourselves. That’s why we’ve been so active in terms of trying to engage federal government assistance …” he said, “We have been engaged in multiple conversations. But as you can see, a final solution has not yet been made available.”

READ MORE: Derelict vessels become unmoored in Port Edward harbour and will be more than $2m to remove

K-J Millar | Journalist
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Many attempts to garner governmental assistance to remove two abandoned sea vessels, the Scotch Cap and the Fair Wind, that became beached on Sept. 8, have been implemented by Prince Rupert Port Authority and the Municipality of Port Edward, both organizations said, but no remedy has been forthcoming. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Environmental disaster was avoided by just luck, Mayor Knut Bjorndal, said on Sept. 8 when a dock with two vessels attached broke away on a Prince Rupert Port Authority sea lot in Port Edward. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
The barge, Scotch Cap, created increased environmental concerns on Sept. 8 when the dock it was attached to broke away in Port Edward. Mayor Knut Bjorndal is calling on all levels of government for assistance with the removal of the vessel and another alongside it. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)