Ships at the entrance to Georgia Strait. Are local levels of government prepared to respond if an oil spill occurs on their shoreline?

Ships at the entrance to Georgia Strait. Are local levels of government prepared to respond if an oil spill occurs on their shoreline?

Are we ready for a spill?

Local governments are ‘hamstrung’ in their ability to respond to marine oil spills says the Georgia Strait Alliance.

Local governments are ‘hamstrung’ in their ability to respond to marine oil spills says the Georgia Strait Alliance.

The environmental group points to the response in Vancouver to a recent oil spill as evidence that even ‘a small marine oil spill can produce havoc.’

“Communication between response partners and all levels of government adversely impacted the City’s ability to respond to the spill quickly and efficiently,” said Madelaine Hatch of the Georgia Strait Alliance in an email.

“If that can happen in a city the size of Vancouver, how prepared are local coastal governments and their communities in and around the Georgia Strait to deal with a spill?” the Alliance asks.

Not very, is their answer, and something needs to be done about it, said Georgia Strait Alliance Executive Director Christianne Wilhelmson after a survey of local governments on their levels of preparedness.

“Local governments need to recognize this fact and plan ahead.  Even a small spill can have serious environmental and health impacts on a community,”Wilhelmson said.

“Senior response partners need to ensure that local governments have a seat at the table, and the necessary resources in place to effectively play their part.”

However, all but one of the local governments who participated in the research reported limited preparedness, or complete non-preparedness, in the event of a marine oil spill.

“Local governments are challenged by poor communication from senior spill response partners,” Wilhelmson said.

Emergency Program Coordinator for the Cowichan Valley Regional District Sybille Sanderson said the CVRD has a significant communications role to play in the event of an oil spill.

“What we are responsible for is notifying the public, helping to get the media message out there and evacuating areas as necessary,” she explained.

“Important messaging for the media to get out as soon as possible after a spill is for people to stay away from any contaminated areas as they are not safe and their presence can actually do more harm than good.”

She said contingency plans are in place for working with other levels of government in the event of an oil spill.

“Recent opportunities to exercise with these agencies have been very beneficial for building those relationships so that we can work effectively together,” Sanderson said.