The marine parking lot that has recently defined the south central coast of the Island has been temporarily cleared of freighters.
But few expect it to remain that way and some are taking steps to make sure the growth of anchoring ships in the area is halted.
“I believe we have a real crisis on our hands and most citizens are not aware of the huge changes that are in the works,” noted Mary Desprez, a resident of the Saltair, which fronts Stuart Channel, the passage between Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands between Gabriola and Salt Spring.
“The existing anchorages have only been used infrequently in the past for bad weather back-up situations. Ship captains and B.C. pilots do not like parking in the Stuart Channel as it takes more travel time and increases risk.”
Back in February, she added, Transport Canada issued an ‘Interim Protocol’ for six months, meaning a test pilot project to see if anyone complains about the increase of freighters parking in and around the Southern Gulf Islands.
The reasons for the backlogs are numerous, beginning with CN Rail now moving more oil and, because of that, the grain freighters are backing up waiting for shipments in Vancouver. Grain loading at the terminal is also weather dependent and preparations are being made for increased oil tanker traffic with the pipeline situation.
The previous ‘bad weather’ anchorages are now being turned into regular, ongoing parking spots for many commercial freighters playing the waiting game.
“The frightening thing is that many people think more freighters means the ‘economy is booming’ and, in fact, it’s the opposite,” Desprez indicated.
In early May, she contacted the Western Canada Environmental Law Society and “we’re getting some legal advice on what we may be able to do,” Desprez added.
An application has been made for grant assistance to hire an environmental lawyer to determine citizens’ collective rights.
“And, if we don’t have any say in the Stuart Channel becoming a parking lot, then I am hoping that Transport Canada has to give us the same safety protection as they do with ports,” Desprez indicated.
That would pertain to such things as deep sea anchors, surveillance, invasive species inspections, spill response plan and more.
Desprez noted because Transport Canada has not contacted the Town of Ladysmith or the Saltair Regional District representative, there has been no real discussion or awareness of the issues.
For those who’d like to find out more, Desprez pointed out there’s a background paper posted at www.sunnysaltair.ca under the Saltair Ocean Protection Committee link.
There’s also a number folks can call to complain about the Stuart Channel freighter parking lot, 604-302-0066. Transport Canada is gauging the number of complaints received about the new protocol.