Federal permit issued to create artificial reef in Canadian waters

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Environment Canada has issued a permit allowing a group to sink the former warship HMCS Annapolis to create a diving destination and artificial reef on the West Coast of British Columbia. However, not everyone is happy about the project’s go ahead.

Opponents, who for several years have been trying to stop the scuttling, say the ship poses a pollution hazard, and Halkett Bay Marine Provincial Park is the wrong place to scuttle it.

But Howard Robbins, president of the Artificial Reef Society of B.C., said the Environment Canada permit shows the ship is clean and won’t pollute the bay on Gambier Island, just a short boat ride from Vancouver. He’s confident a provincial permit will be issued soon, which would complete all the paperwork needed to blow holes in the vessel and sink it. That has been the group’s dream since it got the retired destroyer escort from Canadian Forces in 2008.

“We now have all of our federal authorizations in place. Next will be our park use permit, which will be issued shortly, and at that point we are fully compliant with both governments and we will plan our sink accordingly,” Mr. Robbins said earlier this month.

He said after years of battling opponents and meeting government requirements, he believes all the major hurdles have been cleared, although a marine contractor who worked on cleaning the ship has an outstanding financial claim that needs to be dealt with.

“We’re in talks right now to get the financial matter resolved,” Mr. Robbins said. “Once that’s done we should be good to go. We’re inching our way closer to the sink date right now.”

He said the ship should go down later this year. However, he’s made similar predictions several times in the past, only to have the date delayed while regulatory conditions were met.

The project has long been under attack by environmental groups and local residents who object to Halkett Bay becoming a graveyard for the 50-year-old Annapolis. The Artificial Reef Society had to undertake a massive cleanup effort on the ship, with 1,000 volunteers putting in more than 17,000 hours of work, in addition to the efforts by professional contractors.

“It’s been a very complicated project on many levels but we’ve been able to navigate all of it successfully to the point where we are now,” he said.

Mr. Robbins claims the ship, once sunk, will create an artificial reef on a section of ocean floor that is largely featureless.

“The Annapolis provides something that is not available in Halkett Bay right now and that’s a complex marine habitat,” he said.

But Gary MacDonald, a spokesman for the Save Halkett Bay Marine Park Society, said his group will ask Environment Canada for a hearing to contest the permit because the ship is a pollution threat.

In July, Environment Canada received a consultant’s report that declared the vessel was free of interior insulation and other contaminants, but Mr. MacDonald rejects that report, saying it was written by a lawyer, not an environmental scientist. “We want to see an independent test report that shows the ship is actually clean,” he said.

Mr. MacDonald is also pressing ahead with a petition to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. In that action, filed last week, the group seeks an order requiring the provincial government to stop the sinking, arguing it would violate the Park Act to put a wreck down in a marine park.

Christianne Wilhelmson, of the Georgia Strait Alliance, said there are deep concerns about artificial reefs in general.

“Continuing to sink these ships when we have so many outstanding questions is reckless,” she said.

Although divers maintain sunken ships soon become flourishing reefs with fish species moving into the nooks and crannies, there has been no long-term environmental assessment.

“Nobody is monitoring the other artificial reefs that were created from ships to our knowledge,” she said. “So to me this says we are continuing to dump things into the ocean without looking at the long-term impacts on the environment.”

 

Source: www.theglobeandmail.com

 

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