Bella Bella

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

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner’s report confirms cause of death of three men at Sooke River in 2020

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen drown while ‘puddle-jumping’ in pickup truck

The Pacheedaht First Nation is planning a $1-million expansion to its campground in Port Renfrew. (Pixabay photo)
Expanded camping announced for Pacheedaht Campground

$1-million project is part of the B.C. Rural Economic Recovery program

Soloman and Zev Nagler enjoy time on the beach at Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park on a summer day. The Capital Regional District is in the process of determining whether to institute parking fees at this and eight other CRD parks. (Black Press Media file photo)
CRD parks committee rejects new Greater Victoria parking fees – again

More arguments against fee hikes, pay parking at nine parks, brought forward by committee members

Sooke Road will be down to a single lane Thursday night while crews work on a water main connection. (Pixabay stock image)
Sooke Road down to single lane for water main connection

Night work scheduled for Thursday, early Friday morning

A wind warning is in effect for Greater Victoria Thursday afternoon. (Black Press Media file photo)
Strong winds predicted for Greater Victoria

Environment Canada issues warning for Thursday afternoon

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Feb. 23

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media File Photo)
POLL: Are you struggling with Greater Victoria’s cost of housing?

While Victoria remains one of the most expensive cities in the country… Continue reading

A 50-year-old man was stabbed in an altercation that started with a disagreement about physical distancing. (File photo)
Argument about physical distancing escalates to stabbing in Nanaimo

Victim, struck with coffee cup and then stabbed, suffers minor injuries; suspect arrested

A battery electric-hybrid ferry, pictured here, is expected to make its way to Vancouver Island in late 2021, says B.C. Ferries. (Submitted photo)
Hybrid ferry for Gabriola-Nanaimo route launches in shipyard in Europe

Two hybrid vessels to replace MV Quinsam by early 2022, says B.C. Ferries

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP will not trigger election as long as pandemic continues: Singh

‘“We will vote to keep the government going’

The Port of Nanaimo has signed a 50-year-agreement with DP World around short-sea shipping operations at Duke Point Terminal. (News Bulletin file photo)
Lease ‘important first step’ in $105-million Nanaimo port expansion project

Port of Nanaimo and DP World sign 50-year shipping operations agreement for Duke Point

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

The late Michael Gregory, 57, is accused of sexually exploiting six junior high students between 1999 and 2005. (Pixabay)
Former Alberta teacher accused of sexually assaulting students found dead in B.C.

Mounties say Michael Gregory’s death has been deemed ‘non-suspicious’

Most Read