Bella Bella

BC VIEWS: Petroleum panic a barge too far

Ban on tankers extended to fuel barges would create new ghost towns along the remote B.C. coast

The village of Bella Bella on B.C.’s remote Central Coast has had more than its share of attention in 2016.

In January, Premier Christy Clark joined forest industry and environmental representatives in Bella Bella to sign the final preservation and resource management agreement for the Great Bear Rainforest, the faux-aboriginal name bestowed by U.S. protesters on this great expanse of temperate forest.

Then in September, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, better known as William and Kate, flew into Bella Bella airstrip in what I’m told was a wild and wet landing. Their Royal Highnesses announced that the forest is included in the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, a network of forest conservation programs including all 53 Commonwealth countries.

And then last week, a Texas-owned tugboat pushing a fuel barge south from Alaska ran aground near Bella Bella, and the now-familiar panic and posturing over transport of petroleum products resumed.

This comes as we await the decision of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet on the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline across B.C. to its Westridge terminal in Burnaby. This project is likely to be approved, increasing oil tanker traffic from Vancouver to the point where it almost matches the daily Alaska crude tankers sailing past Victoria.

Back to Bella Bella. The Nathan E. Stewart is not a crude tanker, but rather a tugboat and 10,000-tonne barge that transports refined fuel. The barge was empty when it ran aground Oct. 13, and the tugboat sank in shallow water.

The chorus of protest spread as quickly as the one-molecule-thick diesel sheen from the tug’s fuel tanks. A leading voice was Jess Housty, a Bella Bella resident who proudly describes herself as a Heiltsuk tribal councillor and “foreign funded radical.”

Along with Twitter updates about the barge incident, Housty promoted a strident eco-blog report that Heiltsuk leaders are now demanding the Trudeau government formally legislate a ban on oil tankers off the B.C. coast, and extend it to fuel barges.

I had the pleasure of visiting Bella Bella on a sunny day in September, or at least viewing it from the deck of the BC Ferries vessel Northern Adventure. Bella Bella is currently the only stop on the Inside Passage sailing from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert.

With about 1,400 residents, Bella Bella is one of B.C.’s largest aboriginal communities. It has no road access. Private hydro is wired in from the long-defunct Ocean Falls pulp and paper mill, backed up by diesel generators.

Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett was quoted as saying clam beds at Hartley Bay up the coast have still not recovered from the fuel that escaped when the Queen of the North sank in March 2006.

If that is true, and I would like to see evidence that it is, perhaps it has something to do with another spill that foreign-funded radicals don’t mention. That’s when 15,000 litres of diesel was spilled into Hartley Bay on Dec. 29, 2007 during a transfer from a barge to a large on-shore storage tank that supplies the village’s only power source, diesel generators.

That was a one-day story, barely a blip in the ongoing hand-wringing about fuel still trickling out from the sunken ferry, a year and a half after it went down and two people died.

Day-to-day fuel use is the main risk. If the Heiltsuk protesters get their way, the risk of future fuel spills around Hartley Bay and Bella Bella would soon be reduced substantially.

That’s because both of these villages would soon be deserted.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Castlegar musician holding benefit launch party

Steve Marc is releasing his album Feb 21

Supreme Court of Canada will hear Sinixt appeal May 12

B.C. has appealed aboriginal hunting case through several levels of court starting in Nelson in 2016

Burglar swims across Columbia River to evade Trail police

RCMP Cpl. Devon Reid says the incident began the evening of Thursday, Feb. 20

Fire destroys Fauquier restaurant

Early-morning blaze destroys Mushroom Addition

Salmo RCMP report drug bust

Fentanyl, methamphetamine and cocaine were seized along with Canadian cash

VIDEO: Illicit drug overdoses killed 981 in B.C. in 2019, down 38%

Chief coroner says figures were down about a third in the province’s fourth year of the opioid crisis

VIDEO: B.C.’s seventh coronavirus patient at home in Fraser Health region

Canada in ‘containment’ as COVID-19 spreads in other countries

B.C. takes over another Retirement Concepts senior care home

Summerland facility latest to have administrator appointed

RCMP pull office from Wet’suwet’en territory, but hereditary chiefs still want patrols to end

Chief says temporary closure of field office not enough as Coastal GasLink pipeline dispute drags on

Prescription opioids getting B.C. addicts off ‘poisoned’ street drugs

Minister Judy Darcy says Abbotsford pilot project working

Royals, Elvis, Captain Cook: Hundreds of wax figures find new life in B.C. man’s home

Former director of Victoria’s Royal London Wax Museum still hopes to revive wax figure tourism

Teck CEO says Frontier withdrawal a result of tensions over climate, reconciliation

Don Lindsay speaks at mining conference, a day after announcing suspension of oilsands project

‘Hilariously bad’: RCMP looking for couple with forged, paper Alberta licence plate

Mounties said the car crashed when it lost a wheel but the duo ran away as police arrived

UPDATE: Two missing scout leaders found near Sooke after swollen creek traps troop

Third leader and scouts located, prior to search for two leaders who’d gone for help

Most Read