The federal government is promising that the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station will not lengthen response time to marine distress calls or put lives in danger. But those expected to bear the additional burden say the government never asked for their input.
In a conference call from Ottawa with media Friday, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Deputy Commissioner Jody Thomas said that the right "mix of resources" would be able to respond to the needs of boaters. It would also save the government $900,000 per year.
"This will not affect the level of safety of boaters in the Vancouver Harbour area," she said.
That mix of resources may include vessels from the Vancouver Police Department's Marine division, a new inshore Coast Guard boat, and vessels of opportunity—nearby pleasure boaters who are legally required to respond to distress calls. Thomas said such vessels are frequently the first responders to imperiled mariners.
The closure doesn't sit well with Mike Cotter, the general manager of the Jericho Sailing Centre.
Cotter worries that Jericho's volunteer rescue team will be tasked with situations that go beyond its level of experience. Their 40 volunteers can't replace experienced Coast Guard personnel, he said.
"Our whole purpose is to take care of the people that we generate out there so we're not a burden on the Coast Guard," he said. "Now not having a Coast Guard here is going to put an undue burden on our rescue team. "
Jericho has 3,500 members and caters to close to 9,000 "landlubbers" a year, said Cotter. But despite being the biggest sailing centre in Canada, Cotter heard about the closure like most Vancouverites—through the media.
"There was no consultation, even the port was not consulted. None of the marine police, the City of Vancouver, the RCMP, all the other Coast Guard Auxiliaries working in the area, nobody was consulted."
Thomas said that the Department of National Defence was contacted about the closure, but would not confirm whether Metro Vancouver agencies expected to partner had been notified prior to the announcement.
The inshore boat proposal doesn't hold water either, said Cotter. The proposed vessel—an inflatable craft with an outboard motor—couldn't match the response times of the 30-foot cutter stationed at the Kits base.
That ship, he said, can reach the waters between Point Grey and Point Atkinson in around 10 minutes, has firefighting capabilities and can hold 16 injured people comfortably. It's also manned by Coast Guard staff, who are trained as paramedics—unlike officers in the VPD's Marine Division.
Thomas maintained that response times would not be affected.
Mayor Gregor Robertson will ask council next Tuesday to send a letter to the federal government asking it to keep the station running. Vision Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs said the city could not fill the gap left by the federal government.
"We are not in a position to step up and start taking on federal responsibilities," he said. "We wouldn't be able to take on search and rescue any more than we'd be able take on icebreaking."
Cotter, who has been at Jericho for 25 years, remains confident that the government will reverse its decision. He said the station burned down in 1991, and was rebuilt despite the government's initial decision not to replace it.
"The reaction is similar to what we're seeing today," he said. "The cornerstone of that decision was the response time to the First Narrows. It's like deja vu all over again, but I think ultimately they'll keep it open."