before it was closed in 2013, will re-open this Sunday, May 1st, 2016, but not as people in Vancouver are expecting it to.
May 1st will only be the initial phase as the inflatable inshore rescue boat “CCG#506”, which has operated the past 3 summers from Deadman Island in Coal Harbour with a CCG Coxswain and 2 students on each shift, will be re-stationed to Kits. It will be re-named “Kitsilano 1”, as it’s predecessor rubber boat at the station was, and be crewed by regular Canadian Coast Guard crew members. Following phases are expected to include the additions of an environmental pollution response vessel and an all weather cutter similar to the Osprey, which was stationed at Kits for many years. When these phases will be completed or details on the final station inventory is a fuzzy mystery which the Canadian Coast Guard in Ottawa is not sharing with Canadians.
If an incident similar to the April 8 & 9, 2015 Marathassa fuel spill were to occur in English Bay May 1, 2016 the KItsilano Coast Guard Station would be no more capable of mounting an emergency environmental response than it could in 2015 when it was closed. Up until it closed in 2013 the station could have provided an emergency environmental response to Marathassa that would have prevented bunker C fuel from polluting and closing Metro Vancouver beaches and the local fishery for more than a month. Our local ocean is precious whale habitat and requires better Canadian Coast Guard protection.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not back paddling on his election promise to re-open the station. He gave Department of Fisheries and Oceans Minister Hunter Tootoo a specific mandate to re-open Kitsilano station and his government backed up that commitment by providing a $23 million budget to re-open it and operate it for the next 5 years. (the station was closed to save a claimed $700K a year). Adequate funding to procure: an environmental pollution response vessel and the right equipment to button up a ship like the Marathassa within an hour with capable crew; and, a Coast Guard rated all weather SAR vessel capable of reaching and operating in places like the BC Ferries route on a dark and stormy night in the middle of a Pacific coastal winter when the CCG hovercraft from Sea Island capabilities are severely limited.
The problem appears to be that, while the mandate has changed, the Coast Guard Commissioner in Ottawa is the same person who recommended the closure of Kits in the first place, and then, in the wake of the bumbling CCG response to the Marathassa spill, flat out lied, telling Vancouverites that the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station had no environmental response capability and wouldn’t have made one iota of difference had it remained open. Remember this picture of the environmental pollution response vessel stationed at Kits which surfaced in the wake of that statement? An inconvenient truth. Take what the Commissioner tells you with a hearty grain of sea salt.
Six months after Canadians decisively changed the course of our country, the Canadian Coast Guard in Ottawa has been far too slow to change tacks-not a good quality for an organization tasked to respond to human and environmental emergencies on the ocean. Re-opening the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station on May 1 equipped with little more than the Deadman Island IRB summer student station is simply bureaucratic heel dragging by someone at the helm who really isn’t that interested in seeing it open.
Landlubber Spring arrived early in Vancouver this year, but the ocean is still hypothermia wintery cold. More and more people are heading out on the water, increasing ship and other vessel traffic continues to swell environmental and navigational risks, and, starting May 1, the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station is still not where it needs to be to meet the needs of Vancouver’s marine environment. Canada is a big country. Sometimes it takes a little longer for the changing season to arrive in Ottawa. Hopefully the change arrives in time.