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Home » Archives » December 2010 » BC & Local Governments Call For Cross-Border Action On Oil Spill Risks

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12/17/2010: "BC & Local Governments Call For Cross-Border Action On Oil Spill Risks"

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(Fred Fellerman photo)

VICTORIA - The Islands Trust and San Juan County Councils are asking their respective federal governments to begin working together immediately to improve oil spill protection for the Salish Sea, the inland sea that includes Washington’s Puget Sound and British Columbia’s Georgia Strait.

The agencies want Canada and the United States to reconcile conflicting regulations and create compatible world-class marine safety and oil spill response regulations on both sides of the border. In a joint letter this week, the two local governments urged the two national governments to undertake an immediate review of existing maritime safety standards.

“Boundary lines drawn on maps have no effect on oil spills,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Chair of the Islands Trust Council. “As local governments for the islands of the Salish Sea, we are concerned about the risks presented by marine shipping in the region and the poor state of readiness to respond to a major oil spill in this area. This is a remarkable area, home to an exceptional variety of species and to protect it, we need to increase maritime safety on both sides of the border.”

San Juan County Council Chair Richard Fralick added, “The health and well-being of our islanders is inextricably tied to the health of the marine waters around us. Because of the geography and marine conditions here, experts tell us more than 85 percent of the oil from a major spill would probably escape containment. A spill anywhere in the Salish Sea could be devastating.”

The amount of oil and cargo passing through the Sea is huge. In 2009, there were more than 10,000 transits by large cargo and tanker vessels in the Salish Sea, with another 163,000 ferry trips in Puget Sound, and (in FY 2009-10) 111,000 ferry sailings in the Islands Trust Area in British Columbia.

The Port Metro Vancouver already ranks first in North America in foreign export shipments, and second on the west coast of the Americas in total cargo volume, and significant growth is expected. Canada and British Columbia have established Pacific Gateway programs to increase trade, and in Washington State, a major terminal is proposed for Cherry Point and a number of port expansions have been proposed along the Columbia River.

The request of the Islands Trust Council and San Juan County reinforces the United States Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010, which strongly encourages the Coast Guard to enter into negotiations with the Government of Canada to update the comparability analysis which serves as the basis for the Cooperative Vessel Traffic Service agreement for the management of maritime traffic in the Salish Sea. The Act places an emphasis on reviewing tug escorts for oil tankers, emergency towing and spill response.

The joint letter urges the two national governments to involve tribal and local governments, and other regional agencies in the development process to ensure that all of the region’s cultural and economic interests are represented.

Together the Islands Trust and San Juan County represent the interests of more than 642 islands that share airspace, watersheds and a marine environment within the Salish Sea.

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