Thursday, May 08, 2008

Metlakatla not impressed with barge grounding location

The Daily News captured the anger of the Metlakatla Band over the forced grounding of a barge in Pillsbury Cove this week, leaders of the band were less than impressed with the lack of communication during the incident which saw a fully loaded log barge from the Charlottes intentionally grounded in the Cove, they were still waiting for contact by government officials by the time the Daily News story had gone to print on Wednesday.

The coast for its part advised that Pillsbury Cove was chosen by the harbour master because of the soft sandy bottom in that area which made unloading the barge an easier proposition.

The back and forth of the debate was found as the front page story of Wednesday's Daily News.

Chief councillor says village should have been consulted before the incident
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Pages one and three

A loaded log barge under tow from Masset was deliberately run aground in Pillsbury Cove Monday night at the order of the harbour master, allegedly spilling diesel fuel and creating a non-recoverable sheen in the Prince Rupert harbour.

The barge developed a severe list while crossing Hecate Strait as a result of the logs shifting, putting the barge off balance and creating a severe tilt and a serious safety issue. The local Coast Guard vessel Point Henry was sent out and escorted the tug and barge into Prince Rupert harbour, where it was intentionally grounded.

"The reason Pillsbury Cove was chosen by the harbour master was that it is a soft bottom, so the barge was grounded on the soft bottom of the bay to ensure it didn't sink any further," said Dan Bate, Coast Guard communications officer.

"In low tide, it's obviously going to be grounded, and when it gets to high tide with all the logs pulled off, it should be relatively easy to remove it from the area."

The area the barge was grounded and where the diesel sheen has developed is, however, a sensitive food harvesting area for the village of Metlakatla, and Chief Councillor Harold Leighton was upset following the grounding that nobody had informed the village about what was happening.

"We saw and smelled the spill when we came over on the 8 a.m. ferry from Prince Rupert to Metlakatla, and it was right through to Metlakatla pass," said Leighton. "It's awful. It's right in the middle of our shellfish harvesting area and our seaweed harvest season, and with the tide, all of this diesel is going to continue to move between Prince Rupert harbour and Metlakatla pass, and on to all the islands outside where we harvest seaweed."

As of 1 p.m. yesterday, Leighton said Metlakatla leadership had not been formally contacted about the incident, and he said it was obvious as he crossed the harbour in the morning that any clean-up response to the spilled diesel was already late. Fisheries staff with the band immediately began making calls to find out what had happened, and although they did receive some details by 10 a.m., Leighton said communication with Metlakatla were neglected.

"Nobody's had the decency to call us. Pillsbury Cove is a very sensitive area and somehow they decided that's a safe place to beach this barge," said Leighton.

"I don't know what's in place to respond to these accidents, but to us it's a major accident when it impacts our Aboriginal resources and from what we can understand, it was responded to very poorly.

"I think when it impacts our Aboriginal rights to resources they have a legal obligation to contact us and talk to us about it."

It is unknown how long it will take to conduct an assessment of the vessel, but the responsible party has already contracted a company that was actively engaged yesterday in deploying protection booms around the Prince Rupert harbour to protect sensitive areas.

By 12 p.m. on Tuesday, 1,000 feet of protective booms had already been deployed in an effort to prevent any further spreading of the fuel.

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