Georgia Strait Alliance is the only citizens' group focused on protecting the marine environment in and around the whole Strait of Georgia – Canada's most at-risk natural environment, and the place where 70% of British Columbians live, work and play. We are committed to a future for our region that includes clean water and air, healthy wild salmon runs, rich marine life and natural areas, and sustainable communities.

March 23, 2015

If an oil spill happened, would your community be ready?

When the Exxon Valdez accident happened twenty-six years ago this week, Alaskans learned first-hand what a massive oil spill can do to a community. What if a similar tragedy happened in BC?
Photo: Flickr user Gwen (Creative Commons)

We’ve heard the repeated warnings from federal and provincial assessments that we don’t have the resources to respond to a major oil spill, and we know that the risks are increasing with proposals like Kinder Morgan's pipeline expansion on the table.

At Georgia Strait Alliance, we’re focused on how the risks could affect communities in our region, and what local authorities are doing to be prepared. As part of our research as official intervenors in the National Energy Board review of Kinder Morgan’s proposal, we have been investigating marine oil spill preparedness and response capability in coastal municipalities in the Georgia Strait region. We are becoming increasingly concerned that local governments have not been sufficiently included in oil spill planning and risk assessment; and, in the event of an accident, are likely to be involved in the response effort without adequate resources, training or planning.

We started reaching out to emergency management staff in some key councils, who expressed similar concerns. We are very excited to share that today, the City of Vancouver unanimously passed a motion calling for additional resources and capacity-building for local governments to strengthen their oil spill preparedness.  Vancouver has agreed to forward the motion to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, and then hopefully on to the Union of BC Municipalities convention in the fall. We’re proud to have worked with city staff to get the resolution this far, and grateful to Vancouver for its leadership on this issue, which will benefit communities across the province.

In the meantime, in preparing for our submission to the NEB, we are working with a team of experts to assess the adequacy of local government spill response capability, and get clarity on some key questions:

* What roles do municipalities play in the event of a spill?
* What are municipalities doing to prepare for a spill, and is this adequate?
* What can we learn about the realities of, and best practices for, local involvement in a spill from municipalities who have been through one?
* What unique contributions can municipalities make to the preparedness and response efforts led by other agencies, and do they have the resources to participate in these initiatives?
* Ultimately, are coastal communities in the Georgia Strait ready if an oil spill happens?

By now, those of you who follow this issue closely might be wondering… aren’t marine oil spills a federal responsibility? Won’t clean-up be handled by the Coast Guard, or a response contractor hired by the ship- owner? And technically, you would be exactly right. But from talking to local government staff and councillors who have experienced a spill, if oil is washing up on local beaches, municipalities inevitably get involved.

The reality is, emergency services get called out. Volunteers want to know how they can help. Beaches, roads and other infrastructure may need to be closed. And that’s just once a spill has happened.  Imagine the contributions communities have to offer – for example, local knowledge of sensitive areas that should be protected first, or resources that could be made available – if they had the time and resources to take part in advance planning processes.

These are realities that need to be taken seriously – by municipalities across the province, by senior levels of government, by citizens, and by the National Energy Board.

In the coming months, you’ll hear a lot more from us about this issue. We’ll be publishing the results of our research, and offering to present it to councils throughout the Georgia Strait region. We’ll be asking for their involvement – and yours – to help get the City of Vancouver motion passed at higher levels, and get the issue on the agenda of the provincial and federal government.

Together, we can ensure that local governments are in the best possible position to protect their community and environment if the oil spill we all fear should happen in our region.

March 19, 2015

We Binned Our Boat

Guest Blog by Graham Chamberlain and Barb Hardy

Sidney Spit, 2009
All photos by Barb Hardy
In January 1993, up in Genoa Bay, we bought a twenty year old 37 foot ferro cement sailboat from John Sampson. We circumnavigated Vancouver Island that year, and then for a number of years averaged 100 nights onboard up the outside coast north of Tofino.  We wintered in the Sea of Cortes 96/97 and then lived on and off the boat in Comox & Tsehum Harbour through till 2008.  Though the engine had died in Mexico, and we had removed the old Atomic, we had successfully sailed up through Arran Rapids and north with a small 5hp on the stern. Ashore 2008, after 6 great weeks in the San Juan’s, we became overwhelmed caring for a 100 year old heritage house in Victoria. On the cement-hulled boat the wood decks leaked, mold set in and 3 weeks painting, cleaning and a refit in the summer of 2011 gave us only 10 days at a can in Sidney Spit.
Her last transit before being broken up
I turned 60 in early 2013, and with bad arthritis, we bought a wonderfully maintained 30 year old Campion 310 trawler. Two happy summers up the Broughton’s, Barkley Sound etc and we knew we would never use our sailboat again. And the mushrooms on the ferro-cement sailboat were taking over. What to do?
Sinking her seemed un-ethical – no fuel tanks or engine, but lots of wood, deck-head insulation from Mexico, arborite, wiring etc would float off and be a hazard. We had a ton of offers of those wanting to use her as a “live-aboard”. Fireplace, gimballed oven, water-maker, spacious and for free – but with a broomstick up her shaft tube few have the skill today to sail 11 tons without any reverse shifter – so she would probably have ended up a derelict sinking in some small bay.  
So we binned her.
I’ll be honest around the costs, as that is what everyone questions us on. I’m not sure we did this the best or cheapest way, but I’ve 40 year’s boating and shipyard experience along this coast and it made sense to me. We didn’t ask for quotes for each stage, or dicker - we just paid what was invoiced.
  1. We stripped the boat of the main valuables – gimballed oven, diesel stove, winches, anchor, mast, windlass and put them on Used Victoria - $2200 back from quick sales….
  2. It cost $600 for the mast to be removed….
  3. We paid a local shipyard $800 for haul-out and the 5 days waiting to get her binned…
  4. We paid $1700 for a bin, trucking and fees at the dump for the 7.5 tons of remaining rubble, and
  5. We paid a friend $775 with a jaws-of-death “Spyder” back-hoe thingie to crush and twist the boat for 2 hours and chuck it all in the bin (sinks, stanchions, head, water tanks, a significant cement keel and hull).

We had stripped the boat in June 2014, gone travelling, and then late November co-ordinated the mast removal, crushing and disposal in less than a week (start to finish).  Wow!
The jaws of doom
It was emotional to see a boat we had lived on, raised our girls on, grounded, had fires onboard, etc etc (as all boater yarns go), being crushed in chunks as if some tyrannosaurus was attacking the TWO of US. But we feel a monkey is now off our backs, that our loved boat will not blight our gorgeous coastline as some derelict, and that we have done the right thing – and can now move on.
Thank you to those that had patience as we came to this decision, and helped us as we did it! And to all the old salts that sauntered by proffering free advice and offers to help us selectively remove parts they saw of value. We fondly remember our gleaning various “treasures of the bilges” offered on VHF each morning on the cruisers net in the Baja.

We are off to Alaska April-October 2015 on our “new” (30 year old) trawler.

March 11, 2015

Down at the Dock: Derelict Vessels and Green Boating Solutions

Photo by Alan Wilson
Photo by Alan Wilson

Recreational boating is an incredibly attractive pastime - who wouldn’t be attracted to time spent out on the water with family and friends?  Unfortunately, those who have never experienced the reality of owning a boat are more susceptible to being lured into taking a boat that’s offered for free or buying one on the cheap, and the results aren’t always good. Boaters know what I mean when I say that owning a boat is never cheap – in time or money – and the one in my yard in need of some serious TLC is a testament to that!

Unfortunately, if boat upkeep and the associated costs are not borne by the boat owner, the burden is frequently passed along to the community and the environment when that vessel reaches a problem state. It is only a matter of time before trouble comes along, as untended vessels will certainly end up adrift, washed ashore, or possibly even sunk. Unmaintained boats release fuel and other toxins into the marine environment, putting marine life and habitat at risk, not to mention the danger they pose to mariners and beachgoers and the damage they can cause to shoreline facilities.

The biggest challenge we have in mitigating the impacts of problem vessels is the jurisdictional quagmire that surrounds them. You’ll know what I mean should you ever want to contact the proper authorities to notify them of an incident - there’s a good chance you will be bounced around to various agencies such as the Coast Guard, Transport Canada, the Provincial Emergency Program, the Receiver of Wrecks, the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, the local government, or perhaps even the police. In fact there is such confusion surrounding the issue that BC’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations has recently published a very useful 12-page guide, Dealing with Problem Vessels and Structures in BC Waters.

Ryan handing out our Guide to Green Boating
Ryan handing out our Guide to Green Boating
Photo by Michelle Young
The good news is that there are solutions:

  • Clean Marine BC is Georgia Strait Alliance’s green boating and marina eco-certification program, and has distributed tens of thousands of our Guide to Green Boating. A clean, well maintained boat is a greener and safer boat, thereby reducing our environmental impacts, as well as helping to ensure that our experience is more enjoyable.
  • MP for Nanaimo-Cowichan, Jean Crowder, is proposing legislation designating the Coast Guard as a receiver of wreck and requiring them to take reasonable steps to contact the owner and also to provide for government to make regulations on the removal, disposition or destruction of derelict vessels. The intention is to give the Coast Guard the regulatory power it needs to take action before a derelict vessel becomes a problem.

Bill C-638 is a step in the right direction in dealing with the jurisdictional quagmire surrounding derelict vessels. Please support this bill by writing the Minister of Transportation, Lisa Raitt (, and by contacting your MP. For more information on Bill C-638, visit and

It is up to boaters like us to prevent our pastime from becoming someone else’s headache. Let’s keep our boats afloat…Down at the Dock!