English Bay oil spill shows city, province not prepared for major disaster: MLA

Vancouver's beaches are open and the water near the shoreline is again clear, but black, sticky oil can still be easily found on seaweed, rocks and driftwood lining English Bay, one of the city's most popular beaches. Items that have come in contact with the oil smell strongly of fuel.

Port Metro Vancouver said it became aware of the oil spill at 5 p.m. Wednesday (April 8). The Coast Guard has not yet determined whether the spilled oil is bunker fuel or crude oil.

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But the City of Vancouver wasn't notified until 6 a.m. Thursday morning, and that lag shows there are major gaps in the ability to respond to a major environmental disaster such as a large oil spill, said Spencer Chandra Herbert, NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End.

"There’s no signs, there’s nothing," Chandra Herbert said. "I think the city would have been able to respond better if they’d been given more notice."

Chandra Herbert said he had noticed people letting their dogs and children play near the water's edge, and he had spoken to a young man who had been about to go in swimming.

The B.C. NDP will continue to pressure the provincial government to refuse to participate in the National Energy Board's review of Kinder Morgan's plan to twin its existing Trans Mountain pipeline, Chandra Herbert said.

The City of Vancouver has expressed concern about the possibility of a major oil spill if the pipeline expansion goes ahead and the number of oil tankers in Burrard Inlet increases. In a submission to Transport Canada’s Tanker Safety Expert Panel in April 2014, the city said there is no system in place for “emergency preparedness, mitigation, response or recovery” for a fire, chemical or oil spill or other emergency originating on board a ship.

The city has asked residents to stay away from the beaches and warned people not to touch the oil because it is toxic. The city also says park rangers are patrolling the beaches and has asked boaters to stay away from the water.

Seaweed coated with sticky, thick black oil at English Bay beach. According to the City of Vancouver, the oil is toxic and people should not touch it.

The city is asking people who notice oil on beaches to notify the Coast Guard (1-800-889-8852). People who want to help clean up the spill can call the city's 311 information line.

Mayor Gregor Robertson issued this statement Thursday afternoon:

“Early this morning the City of Vancouver was alerted to a fuel spill in English Bay that occurred yesterday evening. The management of the spill is the responsibility of the federal government through the Coast Guard, the Port, and Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, and they have been working to contain the spill and recover as much as possible. Upon being alerted to the spill early this morning, the city activated our Emergency Operations Centre and supported the response in active coordination with our partners. Marine units from the Vancouver Police Department and Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services were deployed, city staff and park rangers have been in place to monitor the shoreline, and biologists and wildlife experts are also on site to assist in assessing any impacts of the spill on shoreline and wildlife,” he said.

“I would like to thank all first responders and officials who have assisted in today’s effort, and all of those who have volunteered to assist at this early stage.  Residents and watercraft operators are still encouraged to stay away from any fuel as there may be potential health risks. Any spill of this nature is met with grave concern by all Vancouver residents, and underscores both the importance of robust oil spill response capacity in our local waters and the need to protect our shores from all such risks in the future.”

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