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Navigating through a sea of problems

Islands Trust is looking out to sea.

For its first four decades the Trust has been preoccupied with land use, but in recent months it has turned increasing attention to marine matters, a move strongly promoted by the Gulf Islands Alliance.

Troubles with the shellfish industry dominated discussion at Trust Council’s town-hall session in Victoria in early December. Other sea-change challenges are the prospect of tanker traffic oil spills in Georgia Strait, possible polluted run-off into Baynes Sound from the proposed Raven Coal Mine, ongoing struggles to save seashore ecology against near shore and shoreline developments, and, in the longer term, preparing for rising sea levels and other climate-change threats.

Shelley McKeachie of the Association of Denman Island Marine Stewards got Council’s full attention when she said the environmental damage and lack of government control over the shellfish industry, so far confined to the Baynes Sound, could spread to all the southern GulfIslands with the introduction of geoduck (gooey duck) aquaculture.

Council followed by instructing the Trust’s executive committee to “study and make recommendations to Council regarding the costs and resources necessary to create an advocacy campaign for the marine and coastal protection of the Salish Sea, and that all related advocacy issues such as aquaculture, oil tanker traffic, coal transport and climate change be included in this examination.”

Council is checking to see if it can afford the finances and staff resources to take part in the National Energy Board hearings into the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline to Vancouver. If approved, there will be large increase in tanker traffic oil spill risk. Council wants the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to have Port Metro Vancouver study how increased marine traffic from Roberts Bank Terminal 2 would impact the ecosystems, species, and communities of the Salish Sea. 

The struggle to protect Trust Area waters and ecology has intensified in recent years as the federal government has promoted energy industry expansion. When Scott Vaughan, Canada’s commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, retired early in 2013 he said “environmental protection is failing to keep pace with economic development.” He lamented the absence of sea life protections. As we’ve seen in the Trust Area, setting up the promised national network of marine protected areas, free of heavy economic activity, has been painfully slow in Canada.

Vaughan‘s complaint about “jurisdictional confusion” applies both to monitoring and control of energy companies and fisheries. He noted that government-imposed liability limits for oil spills are outdated and ridiculously low. The cost of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill was $40 billion.

To attract taxpayers’ attention to the fact they would be on the hook to pay billions to clean up a marine oil spill, the Gulf Islands Alliance’s suggested that Islands Trust should ask senior governments for a ‘cost assessment of oil spills that includes an economic evaluation of the loss of natural services’. We were turned down.

The Trust opposes ‘oil pipeline projects that lead to the expansion of oil export by barge and tanker from Canada’s west coast’, and supports a ‘long-overdue initiative to improve the BC spill prevention and response regime.’ The Trust noted that UBC fisheries economists figured a major tanker spill off BC’s northern coast $10 billion.

Of even greater concern than oil spills is what the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, an international group of marine scientists, describes expected unprecedented damage to ocean ecosystems by climate change, overfishing, and industrial pollution. In their 2013 report they said increased warming, acidification and de-oxygenation reduces the capacity of oceans to nurture resident plants and animals. Program spokesperson Professor Alex Rogers says, “The situation should be of the gravest concern to everyone since everyone will be affected by changes in the ability of the ocean to support life on Earth.”

Climate change has ignited predictions of more lethal weather events, causing damage far beyond the capacity of affected local governments to repair.  Parts of the Lower Mainland and the islands are increasingly vulnerable to violent weather and rising sea levels. A rise of 1 metre could occur in 20 years, says Coastal Cities At Risk, a group looking at ways to protect communities at high risk from climate change. A major concern is seawater seepage into ground water or the outright flooding of food production areas. Many crops won’t tolerate extra salt. Another huge challenge is to find ways to protect infrastructure and deal with private property rights and zoning to discourage development in low-lying areas. 





Oil spill risk unacceptable: GIA

Gulf Islanders have a vital stake in the current debate over the future of oil tanker traffic in BC’s coastal waters. A major spill in our area would be an environmental disaster.

While this is a complex issue that has ignited ongoing and wide-ranging political, business and environmental passions and opinions, the Gulf Islands Alliance (GIA) is convinced that proposed pipeline capacity and tanker traffic increases pose an unacceptable risk for our islands.

GIA arranged a series of free public meetings in the Southern Gulf Islands in early 2014 to give islanders an opportunity to have their say about plans to quadruple the volume of Tar Sands oil shipped through the Islands Trust Area. These community meetings focused on the risk to our environment and wildlife and explained how you can best voice your concerns. Sponsored by the Gulf Islands Alliance, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Georgia Strait Alliance, these meetings preceded hearings by the National Energy Board into an application by Kinder Morgan to twin their pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby. GIA’s Misty MacDuffee, a marine biologist, is leading our campaign to keep our waters free of oil and other harm. Of proposals to convert our coast to an energy corridor for global shipments of tar sands oil, she says:

“Between Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal and Kinder Morgan’s (KM) Trans Mountain Proposal, 700 loaded tanker trips (one-way) could occur annually. KM wants to deliver 700,000 barrels per day to the Vancouver region by 2016 with tankers transiting the Fraser estuary, GulfIslands, Haro and Juan de Fuca Straits.  In the hopes of not triggering a public review, KM is seeking incremental approvals for this increased capacity. Traffic could also come from loaded Northern Gateway tankers entering the Juan de Fuca for Cherry Point.

“The implications for the SalishSea region are enormous and the populace is being asked to bear the risks with virtually no public engagement. Our archipelago hosts wild salmon populations, migratory birds on the Pacific flyway, important estuaries, shellfish beds and the habitats of many rare, threatened or endangered coastal species including southern resident killer whales. The SalishSea is already suffering intense pressures from growth; chronic oiling and spills will only intensify the declining health of our ecologically fragile region. In saying ‘no’ to pipeline expansion, we are saying ‘yes’ to a different vision for our islands, coast and country.”

The pipeline-tanker file is one of GIA’s priority initiatives, consistent with the idea behind GIA’s reason-for-being as a non-profit grassroots group — to bring together like-minded people from across the Trust Area islands to speak with a strong, unified voice in support of the Trust object to preserve and protect our islands.

In December, 2013, GIA reiterated its support to Islands Trust for its “leadership in opposing the proposed expansion of oil tanker traffic…as well as shipping US coal through the SalishSea.

“The Salish Sea must not become a carbon corridor,” GIA said in a letter to the Trust. “In particular, the Trust should ensure it secures its role as an intervenor in the upcoming National Energy Board hearings on Kinder Morgan’s proposal.”

The Islands Trust jurisdiction over lands and waters that surround the tanker route command such status. This status should also extend to citizens within the Trust Islands who are equally affected by this proposal. Protecting democracy is crucial for protecting our environment. “We also suggest that Trust Council support the demand of several environmental groups to withdraw from the Equivalency Agreement between BC and the federal government. Such action would reclaim BC’s right to hold its own environmental assessment of Kinder Morgan’s expansion plans and other major energy projects.”

The Salish Sea must not become a carbon corridor.

The scope of these reviews could also be widened to properly assess upstream and downstream consequences not being considered by the NEB process.

In February 2014, GIA applied for commenter status at the upcoming NEB hearings. Here’s the text of GIA’s application:

“The Gulf Islands Alliance (GIA) is a non-profit NGO formed in 2006 to protect BC’s Gulf Islands, their natural environments, rural nature, and unique cultures, for now and for future generations. We support the Islands Trust federation in achieving its legislated Object of preserving and protecting these unique Islands. Our organization draws its support from hundreds of individuals, families and communities that live throughout the Gulf Islands.Gulf Islands ecosystems are finite, threatened and in need of policies that offer greater protection for land and marine ecosystems.

“GIA supports and encourages the conservation of island landscapes, habitats, and native species. We advocate for new marine protected areas and the expansion of the proposed National Marine Conservation Area to safeguard marine features, processes and species in the Trust area. Kinder Morgan’s oil tankers must traverse the Gulf Islands to reach their Vancouver and international destinations. These islands, and the marine and coastal habitats they lie within, are directly affected by increased oil tanker traffic. As such, the interests of our organization are directly affected by this proposal, as they would be adversely affected in the event of an episodic oil spill, chronic oiling and/or air quality impacts that would accompany increased tanker traffic. Impacts to the ecological quality of this region have further consequences for the social and economic health of these rural island communities and their ability to support and accomplish GIA’s objectives.

“GIA plans to comment on the ecological risks, the known and the potential adverse effects of increased tanker traffic on species, habitats and ecosystems of the Gulf Islands that surround Kinder Morgan’s oil tanker route. This includes the adverse consequences from chronic oiling, episodic oil spills, and increased shipping. We will also consider cumulative anthropogenic effects which already adversely affect species within the proposed project area.”


After being granted ‘commenter’ status, GIA submitted the following on August 17, 2015
To the National Energy Board
Re: Application to expand Kinder-Morgan Pipeline Commenter Number A58491
In an earlier letter the Gulf Islands Alliance objected to the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline for reasons such as increased risk of spillage — which along with the perception that the NEB process is industry-biased — that have been voiced by the thousands of Canadians.
This letter focuses on an even more crucial issue: the NEB’s role, as seen in the Kinder Morgan process, in responding to climate change.
If we could imagine seeing the world from outer space or a future century, our age will be described as a time when humanity collectively shot itself in the foot. Maybe, in the heart. Because, in the pursuit of cheap and abundant fossil fuel energy, we made the climate unbearable for healthy life and the natural environment as we’ve known it.
In that distant assessment the culprits will be identified. Most of us will share the guilt, but those in positions of power and authority, including NEB appointees, who foster carbon fuel extraction, transport and consumption, will be blamed most.
The suggestion that consideration of climate change is outside the NEB’s mandate is a cop out. Energy and climate change are dance partners. Official blindness to this fact moves the agency into the same place of revulsion we have for soldiers who murder on orders from superiors. Moral law must trump contrary human law. To behave as if escalating fossil fuel use can be done safely perpetuates the lie that catastrophic harm isn’t being done.
The Gulf Islands Alliance is a non-profit, grassroots group that supports the ‘preserve and protect’ mandate of the Islands Trust Act. We see climate change as the greatest long-term threat to the Gulf Islands and the world beyond. We believe there comes a time when enlightened people of conscience and decency must stand up for our children’s future and the earth itself. That time is now. We beg you to do the right thing.


Shellfish aquaculture worries islanders

The poorly regulated shellfish industry is the most visible example of government failure to do the right thing for Gulf Islands shorelines and marine environment.

The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), aided and abetted by the province, is hell-bent to exploit sea-life at the expense of the environment, Islands Trust’s mandate, and residents’ quality of life and property values.

Two rubber-boot clad locals dig for geoducks on Denman Island

Coming to a beach near you? Geoduck aquaculture has started in earnest on Denman Island. Here, in mid-June 2014, PVC pipes for the cultivation of intertidal geoducks are installed using a power auger. Despite protests by the Association of Denman Island Marine Stewards and GIA, the federal government appears determined to allow geoduck farming across the Gulf Islands.

So far, the battle site is the 90 percent of Denman Island’s western shore that’s under shellfish tenure. Company vehicles drive on the beaches. Tons of industry debris are left each year for residents to clean up. Beaches are bermed, water courses altered, and   anti-predator netting snares wild life and destroys bird habitat. After the Fraser River estuary, the Denman/Baynes Sound area is the  most important waterfowl habitat in BC and an important area for herring spawning and the growth of salmonids and other fish species.

This scene could spread to other islands if the DFO succeeds in opening BC’s coast, including the shorelines of Salt Spring, Galiano, Gabriola, and other major islands, to geoduck aquaculture. It is promoting the geoduck as “one of the most economically prosperous and environmentally sustainable fisheries on the west coast.” One company owner says geoduck aquaculture could become a billion dollar industry in the Salish Sea.

The geoduck is a saltwater clam that in rare cases measures up to 2 metres in length and 7.5 kilograms in weight. It sells for a reported $150 a pound in China, its largest market.
One feature of geoduck farming is the vertical installation of 20,000 to 40,000 PVC pipes, each about 12 centimetres in diameter and 25 centimetres long, per acre into beach sediment for predator protection for the first 18 to 24 months of a 7 to 10 year crop cycle. PVC pipe breaks down in a marine environment, releasing toxins absorbed by zooplanktons and bio-magnifying their harm as they move up the food chain. Vinyl chloride in PVC is a human carcinogen. GIA asks how the DFO can honestly reconcile its enthusiasm for the geoduck industry with its legal duty to maintain a sustainable marine ecology and protect endangered species such as orcas?

The industry has proven highly controversial in Washington’s Puget Sound — it has about a 15-year head start over BC — because of its damage to the ecology and other facets of the economy, such as tourism. Many of the more than 225 shellfish sites there converted to commercial use without shoreline permits, public comment or environmental review.

In the fall of 2013 GIA sponsored a public talking tour by the Association for Denman Island Marine Stewards  on Gabriola, Thetis, Salt Spring, Galiano, Mayne and Pender Islands. Neither GIA or ADIMS oppose the industry per se; our complaint concerns its large scale, lack of government regulation, disrespect for the marine environment, and planned expansion of geoduck aquaculture to the rest of the Gulf Islands. We’re also concerned that owners of existing tenures won’t have to apply to the DFO or notify local government or the public when they switch to geoduck. The Gulf Islands Alliance supports the Denman group’s bid to have geoduck aquaculture banned in the Islands Trust Area, similar to an existing ban on fin fish farms.

The Denman case exposes the Islands Trust’s weakness in enforcing its environmental mandate when senior governments exploit resource-based business opportunities that occur on the islands. We’ve seen it forestry, and now shellfish aquaculture. Licenses and tenures are granted contrary to existing zoning and wise environmental practice. The industry successfully thumbs its nose at the Trust which acknowledges the Denman-Baynes Sound shellfish industry is unsustainable and, in part, illegal.  The Trust Policy Statement’s vow to protect its marine areas has been muted by happenings in Baynes Sound.

A central objective of good planning, the separation of incompatible uses, has been violated on Denman. And yet Trust planners report that even if proper prohibitions were adopted by the local trust committee, “by-law enforcement of non-compliance would be difficult if not impossible given the predicted pressures from (the province) and Department of Fisheries … and the high chance of creating conflict (with them).” Denman’s local trust committee retained a consultant who mostly confirmed the planners’ position and also recommended hiring a lawyer “to address driving on the beach and beach modification in a manner that does not interfere with the constitutional jurisdiction of Canada in managing the shellfish aquaculture licenses.”

Hardly a confidence-builder for other Gulf Islanders who have taken for granted that their beaches are off limits to such intrusions.

Here’s GIA’s letter to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans

April 19, 2014
Jennifer Mollins, Senior Coordinator,
Shellfish Aquaculture Management,
Fisheries Management Branch — Pacific Region,
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Gulf Islands Alliance response to the DFO Draft Geoduck Management Plan

Dear Ms Mollins

This is to request the DFO exclude the Islands Trust islands from its geoduck aquaculture management plan at least until there’s a full independent public review of its potential impacts on the islands’ natural and social environments.

As a priority, the review would take into account the unique nature and significance of the Islands Trust Act and the area of its jurisdiction. Unlike all traditional forms of local governments in Canada and beyond, the 40-year-old Trust was set up to ‘preserve and protect’ the remarkable natural environment of BC’s beautiful Gulf Islands. The importance of the Act’s environmental priority has been confirmed by the courts and in an expert legal opinion commissioned by the Gulf Islands Alliance.

The Trust is not alone in treasuring and trying to protect this area. Its boundaries are partially overlapped by the proposed 1,400 square kilometre Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area Reserve that Parks Canada says is “among the most productive marine ecosystems in the world (and) also among the finest areas globally for scuba diving, whale watching, sea kayaking and coastal cruising.” This federal agency aims to “conserve this vital marine ecosystem while allowing human uses to continue in an ecologically sustainable manner. It is also an exciting opportunity to create a legacy for future generations — a legacy of healthy, productive marine ecosystems that benefits both local residents and visitors.”

The DFO draft geoduck plan makes no mention of Islands Trust, Local Trust Committees or the Trust’s Policy Statement that urges senior governments to honour the Trust Act by protecting areas that thrive with naturally occurring shellfish populations and other marine life. The draft contains no provision to invite any affected local government to join with federal and provincial agencies in the ‘harmonized’ review process for issuing shellfish licences and tenures. The Trust already insists that finfish farms should not be permitted in its marine waters and aquaculture should only be permitted “if compatible with maintenance of ecosystems and community character.”

Compatible with maintenance of ecosystems?

The Trust describes intertidal habitats as “biodiversity hotspots … home to hundreds of marine species…that connect foodwebs from the land to the ocean abyss.” But present commercial shellfish monocultures on the western shores of Denman Island and Baynes Sound in the Trust Area are incompatible with the maintenance of beach ecosystems there. Further escalation and expansion of these unsustainable practices to other Trust islands under the proposed geoduck plan would provoke well-founded opposition by Gulf Islanders and other concerned Canadians. The DFO’s description of the geoduck as “one of the most … environmentally sustainable fisheries on the west coast” is held in some disbelief. Last fall the Gulf Islands Alliance sponsored a series of public meetings on six major Gulf Islands by the Association for Denman Island Marine Stewards who told of company vehicles driving on beaches, tons of industry debris that residents clean up each year, the disruptive berming and altering of water courses, and anti-predator netting that renders critical bird habitat unavailable to birds for feeding and can snare other wildlife. And recently some Gabriola Island residents complained that silt stirred up by the use of stingers to harvest wild geoducks is destroying “kelp, starfish, snails and jellyfish” in the Whalebone area.

Looking south, many Gulf Islanders are alarmed and demanding that the ecological damage and bitter legal citizen/industry conflicts caused by geoduck aquaculture in Washington State must not be repeated here. The Case Inlet Shoreline Association of Puget Sound says the shellfish industry and commercially-biased government regulators use out-of-context self serving pseudo science to justify injurious practices and deny obvious environmental damage. Among other wrongs, the Association says the shellfish industry causes the loss of biodiversity, the depletion of native species, the introduction and spread of alien organisms, the killing and hazing of shorebirds, the use of chemical poisons to kill native burrowing shrimp and the disruption of fish habitat. It dismisses as “false and misleading industry propaganda” claims that shellfish aquaculture provides positive ecological functions and improves water quality. It says the geoduck industry removes and destroys eelgrass, sand dollars, and starfish and further threatens endangered salmon species and bald eagles.

The Association also points out the high environmental cost of using polyvinyl chloride (PVC) tubes. They weigh in at 75 tons per acre of geoduck aquaculture. PVC pipe breaks down in a marine environment, releasing toxins absorbed by zooplanktons and bio-magnifying their harm as they move up the food chain. Vinyl chloride in PVC is a human carcinogen. While like the Denman marine stewards the US group doesn’t oppose a well-managed and regulated shellfish industry of limited scale, it does insist that the precautionary principle should be imposed until all the present unknown cumulative effects of the industry’s potential impacts are understood.

Compatible with community character?

Before intertidal geoduck aquaculture is imposed, Gulf Islanders must be afforded the same right of due process that’s applied to any proposed land use change. Separating incompatible uses is a pillar of desirable and humane planning. Because of unnecessary, deleterious effects on quality of life and property values, active industries and residences must be kept from each other’s doorstep. DFO’s list of licensing considerations, including adjacent land uses and ecological protection, offer little comfort to those who witness their unhindered violations. Allowing geoduck aquaculture in the intertidal zone directly in front of shoreline homes is an avoidable provocation. Most distressing, the draft plan allows owners of existing tenures to switch to geoduck cultivation without approval by any authority.

Being public property should not excuse senior governments from observing fair planning and zoning practices and seeking full and formal public input. There are many other legitimate, significant and competing interests evident in the Islands Trust marine areas, interests that should not be pre-empted by DFO. Important decisions such as introducing geoduck aquaculture to new areas — decisions that also have impacts on property tax revenues, tourism, recreation and other elements of the local economy — should be political and not assigned to the discretion of singularly-focused, unelected government agencies. An open review of the geoduck plan would uncover just how much islanders love their marine environment and surely lead to a better resolution. Because the multi-layers of marine area jurisdiction and the process of implementing change will be viewed by the general public as complicated and confusing and because changes to shoreline uses are more ‘in your face’ than other ‘out to sea’ fisheries initiatives, there’s a greater necessity and benefit for authorities to explain what and why the proposed change is for the public good. Or not.

The Gulf Islands Alliance is a non-profit independent grassroots group of residents from across the Gulf Islands dedicated to the letter and spirit of the preserve and protect mandate of the Islands Trust Act.

Put ferries on same footing as highways

Chagrined by contemptible ferry fare increases, the Gulf Islands Alliance says islanders want ferries put back on the same footing as highways, a part of BC’s integrated public transportation infrastructure and marine highway.

Part of GIA’s quest is “to keep our rural communities economically vibrant, resident-based, diverse and affordable.”

GIA believes ferries ownership/management must be a public policy function of elected provincial representatives, not a business run by a poorly-understood semi-public corporation. Many islanders reject the criticism that they chose to live on the islands as if they knowingly ‘gambled their futures’ on an unreliable ferry system.

The government must be committed long term to maintaining ferries with affordable fares and adequate service.

Many ideas to improve efficiencies and return the government to total accountability have been offered by ferry users in a recent round of public consultation.  Variously criticized as a public relations exercise, manipulative, and a complete waste of time and tax dollars ($700,000), the consultation increased cynicism among some islanders. It’s telling that the consultants didn’t list an increase in provincial ferry contributions as an option for public consideration. Further, lack of information about economic and other impacts of possible service and fare adjustments, and suggested options such bridge construction, particularly for Gabriola Island, and financing ferries with property and fuel taxes have been a distraction from the central question: How and when will the provincial government, as a matter of public policy, undertake sole responsibility for the secure management and sustainability of ferries?

This objective would officially commit the province to recognize ferries as the lifeline carrying almost 9 million vehicles and 20 million passengers annually to communities along BC’s 27,000 kilometres of coastline. Recognizing that a gold-plated transportation service can over-stimulate growth and tourism, with attendant impacts on fragile island environments, GIA is looking only for long-term security and fairness in ferry service. It’s a service now strained by declining ridership and prepaid fare rates that have more than doubled in the last nine years and are set to rise another 12 percent in the next two years. Public ferries must be treated as infrastructure and not continue to be unfairly associated with ‘significant losses’, ‘subsidies’ and ‘shortfalls.’ To soothe its critics, it should be widely announced that ferries receive 85 percent of operating revenues from fares, compared to public transit that gets only 35 per cent from users, the rest coming from government.

The ferries’ decade-long move towards a user-pay model is largely responsible for the unconscionable fare increases that have wrought economic distress and reduced populations on some islands. Real estate values have dropped by up to 33 percent in the last five years. While GIA supports a closer look at near-empty ferry runs and eliminating other inefficiencies, user-pay must be scrapped. GIA agrees with Ferry Advisory Committee recommendations to roll back fares by 25 per cent on smaller routes and peg future fare increases to inflation.