A diesel spill in the Mamquam Blind Channel couldn't have hit at a worse time, says an environmental activist.
Last week, Squamish Streamkeeper John Buchanan filmed a school of herring with an underwater camera, just off the shore of the former Woodfibre mill site. A few days later, on Tuesday (Jan. 14), 1,500 litres of diesel spilled from a sunken tug into the Mamquam Blind Channel.
“The time for this is horrendous,” Buchanan said.
The Canadian Coast Guard headed cleanup operations, with a number of other organizations attending the site, including municipal bylaw and environmental officers. Containment booms were placed around freshwater streams' mouths and deployed around the 74-foot wooden vessel, called the Elf, Coast Guard spokesperson Dan Bate said.
Diesel evaporates, causing less damage to waterways than other fuels, he noted, but residents could smell the spill downtown.
“More of an issue is the lubricants,” Bate said, noting on Wednesday (Jan. 15) that a diver plugged the tug's vents. “Trajectory modelling shows the [oil] is keeping close to the boat.”
The vessel's remediation is the responsibility of the tug's owners and the owner's representative, Bate said. If they don't take action, the Coast Guard steps in. The organization can take legal steps to reimburse government agencies for the cost of the cleanup, he noted.
Squamish resident Steen Larsen on Thursday (Jan. 16) said he is not the owner of the boat, but helps maintain it. The boat's estimated value is $125,000, he said. He is calling for an RCMP investigation into the Elf's sinking, adding he thinks it might be a case of sabotage.
"There is an agenda here," he said, noting he is setting out to prove that claim.
Derelict or non-maintained vessels have plagued Squamish waterways in recent years, Squamish Mayor Rob Kirkham said. On the day of the spill, Kirkham was in the midst of discussing a marine and land use plan for Howe Sound at the Howe Sound Community Forum.
In November, officials forwarded a list of worries regarding governance over such vessels to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM). District staff are continually connecting with leaders on Bowen Island, Gibsons and Sechelt on the matter, Kirkham added.
“We are all working together to get better local control over the situation. It is very important that this be addressed,” he said, noting last year there was at least one spill in the same area.
Collaboration is the key to dealing with the problem, municipal real estate manager Neil Plumb said last November. While the province owns much of B.C.'s land covered by water and has the same rights over its lands as an owner, the ability to make laws and regulate what goes on in navigable waters is a federal responsibility.
“Funding is a challenge for all levels of government, including ours,” Plumb said.
Buchanan has recorded 10 sunken boats in the channel. Since the spill, he's already spotted dead juvenile pink salmon on the channel's shoreline. Unfortunately the slick's effects will be lasting, Buchanan said, noting herring are arriving over the next month.
“All of this oil will coat the rocks,” he said. “This is awful.”