Skip to content

Questions linger as oil spill cleanup begins on West Vancouver beaches

As a cleanup effort gets underway on the West Vancouver shoreline following Wednesday’s oil spill in English Bay, questions are still being raised about the inadequate response to the spill.

As a cleanup effort gets underway on the West Vancouver shoreline following Wednesday’s oil spill in English Bay, questions are still being raised about the inadequate response to the spill.

West Vancouver Mayor Michael Smith said Friday he shares concerns that the Coast Guard didn’t notify municipalities of the oil spill until 12 hours after it happened.

“Obviously there was a screw up,” he said. “We should have been notified immediately so we could deploy district staff to do whatever we could do to mitigate the damage. That didn’t happen.”

Smith also questioned why it took six hours from when the spill was called in to getting a containment boom around the vessel.

“When a screw up occurs a lot of people say if I close my eyes maybe nobody will notice and it’ll all go away,” he said.

Smith said he spoke with Premier Christy Clark Friday about the spill.

“She said she was disappointed the Coast Guard had taken so long notifying (the municipalities) about the spill and that it had taken so long getting resources to deal with it.”

He said the important task following the clean up will be to “sit down and find out what happened and why it took so long.”

“It’s more than a concern. I think it’s scandalous,” he said.

Smith said when West Vancouver beaches are compromised “we need to be very vocal about the fact it’s not acceptable.”

Kirsten Pendreigh went for a run along the West Vancouver seawall around 9 a.m. Friday and “I could see oil the whole way,” she said.

Pendreigh said she was disappointed that there weren’t any signs of clean up happening, especially when an eagle swooped down to eat a fish nearby. “Who knows what’s in that fish?” she said. “I saw river otters swimming right through a slick of oil.”

On the North Shore, Sandy Cove appears to be most affected by the environmental incident. A Western Canada Marine Response Corp.-contracted cleanup crew was at the beach Friday afternoon combing the area for any sign of oil and came prepared with stack of industrial-sized oil absorbent pads.

Coast Guard officials still can’t say how, through their containment efforts, an 80-metre stretch of the oil spill slipped through the skimmer and came in on the current to the West Vancouver shoreline. The timeliness of the response has also been questioned.

Coast Guard assistant commissioner Roger Girouard defended the response to the spill, saying reports of pollution in the Port of Vancouver are not uncommon and only later did authorities realize the spill was more serious than first thought.

“You don’t contain 80 per cent of a spill within 36 hours and call that inadequate,” Girouard told reporters at a press conference Friday. “We are turning to this with great vigor to make sure it’s done right.”

Federal Industry Minister James Moore, who also present Friday, said pictures of the oil spill are devastating to Canadians across the country. He called the response to the spill “very impressive,” adding that Canadian taxpayers should be reassured that they will not be shouldering the cleanup costs.

“Those who are responsible will pay,” said Moore.

Girouard singled out Sandy Cove as being an area that cleanup crews are focused on, but added that First Nations have asked them to slow down their efforts because of “cultural implications.”

Chief Ian Campbell of the Squamish Nation said there are members assessing the spill’s impacts on the West Vancouver shoreline.

“So they are seeing clusters of hydrocarbon buildup bigger than beads — so they are seeing the effects of the oil spill,” Campbell told the News late Friday afternoon.

However, he says it’s misleading for government officials to say First Nations are impeding the cleanup efforts.

“I think we would flag any culturally sensitive areas that would be impacted but that wouldn’t slow down cleanup efforts,” said Campbell, who also blasted the response time by the Coast Guard.

“Considering the feds have been saying this is world class, we don’t agree with that,” he said Campbell. 

Girouard said on Friday so far four birds have been caught up in the oil slick along with a report of a seal in distress.

Lance Barrett-Lennard, head of cetacean research at the Vancouver Aquarium, worked on several oil spills early in his career, including the clean-up and monitoring efforts following the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound.

Barrett-Lennard said bunker fuel is made up of different types of oil. Some evaporate quickly, creating an immediate impact of toxic fumes, such as those that could be smelled near the spill on Thursday. Others are “very heavy and tarry.”

That substance breaks into fragments and either floats around or sinks.

Barrett-Lennard said on Friday morning he found blobs of the tarry substance in Sandy Cove.

“Occasionally an unlucky bird or creature will get mired in it,” he said. “If an animal preens itself to get it off, it’s toxic.”

The tar causes liver damage in animals that ingest it, he said. “If a sea otter got heavily coated, its survival prospects are poor.”

Barrett-Lennard said because the spill is relatively small, he doesn’t expect long-term impacts to fisheries or wildlife over a large area.

Barrett-Lennard said he sees the spill — and the response to it — as a “cautionary event. I look at this as a micro demonstration of what we could expect if there was something larger.”

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks