INTERVIEW: MLA Rice on the fuel spill near Bella Bella

October 28, 2016 | CFAX Radio Victoria |Adam Stirling


Adam Stirling: Earlier this week we touched base with the leader of the BC Green party. Andrew Weaver was talking about the incident regarding the fuel spill in the area near the Heiltsuk Nation, in Bella Bella. The Nathan E Stewart tugboat went down there. As we all know, more than 100,000 litres of diesel fuel ended up going into the ocean. Thankfully, the barge that was being pushed by that tug, which would normally have been loaded with fuel, was actually empty at the time. It was an empty barge being returned back. Otherwise it would have been millions of litres of fuel that could have leaked out into the pristine environment there. North Coast Member of the Legislative Assembly, the NDP’s Jennifer Rice, has actually been in the there area near Bella Bella for six days, supporting the Heiltsuk Nation and their spill response by doing shift work working the boom, as well as making food, providing other supports, while collecting stories from different aspects of the response team. She joins us on the phone line. Jennifer Rice, welcome to the program. How are you?

Jennifer Rice: I’m good. Thank you for having me on.

Stirling: Tell us a little bit about what you’ve seen up there over the past few days since this has happened on October 13th.

Rice: Sure. I arrived on day seven of the spill. So a week had gone by and I had imagined that things would be sort of contained and more organized and under control, on a path to recovery. But when I arrived, it felt like what I would have imagined day one would be like. It was chaotic, it was disorganized, people were rushing about in the command centre looking very busy, and when I got out on the water I was flabbergasted. I thought, ‘Okay, it’s not oil. It’s only diesel. Diesel evaporates. How much damage could a little tug do?’ I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was enormous. It was spreading. Nothing was working. The booms weren’t working. There were all these boats out there, essentially, just at the mercy of the winds, the waves, the tides and the spill itself. I was gob smacked at what day seven looked like. I can’t imagine what day one looked like.

Stirling: So, what exactly happened during your time there? Was progress made?

Rice: Well, I guess every little bit helps and every little bit puts us towards progress. By the time I had left they had pumped out all the tanks that were on the vessel. So, essentially they used this process called hot tapping. I will just simplify it and say it is like a big vaccuum and it sucked out the tanks on the boat and removed all the fuel in those tanks. So, that was definitely progress because that was completed while I was there.

Mind you, the product that had been spilled already – very, very hard to pick up. It is actually thin so the skimmers that would skim this off weren’t able to collect it. So, they are passing around, skimming around, the water but not actually accumulating any product. The goal was to try and pile the product up to make it a thicker, more dense product so that the skimmers could actually suck it up. But then storms blew up and all the small vessels had to go back to port. So days and days went on where this product just got spread further and further and further. And then it also washed up on the shores. Once it hit the shores, it is kind of too late.

Stirling: Yes, we spoke with Chief Slett earlier on the show this week and she said that in some places there was as much as six inches of diesel fuel at the shore.

Rice: Uh-huh. Days after this, day 13, workers, I would greet them at the dock when they came back and they were showing me pictures. It was like someone had just literally poured oil into little tide pools. The unfortunate thing of the absorbent booms — so these are like sausage rolls of cotton, links of sausage cotton — the storms washed them up on shore and they got shredded to bits on the barnacles and the edges of sharp sea life. The mesh opened up and all this little cotton, tiny balls of white cottony stuff, spread and worked its way up and down with the tide all through the intertidal zones. So, now we have this cleanup of the cleanup to do. It almost looks worse than the actual diesel, in my opinion.

Stirling: I’ve seen the pictures that you are talking about. It is very distressing.

Rice: It is. It’s really distressing because that is where it counts because that is where it is going to linger for years on end. The goal is really to not let it hit the shoreline. Unfortunately, with the slow response times, that happened. We weren’t able to prevent that from happening.

Stirling: She is the member for the North Coast in the BC Legislative Assembly. NDP’s Jennifer Rice speaking with us. She recently spent six days in the nation of Heiltsuk helping their people with the spill response by doing shift work, pulling the boom, making food, as well as providing other supports. She has seen many of the effects that we have been talking about with this tug boat going down and the fuel spill near Bella Bella. The phone lines are open…