The village of Bella Bella on B.C.’s remote Central Coast has had more than its share of attention in 2016.
In January, Premier Christy Clark joined forest industry and environmental representatives in Bella Bella to sign the final preservation and resource management agreement for the Great Bear Rainforest, the faux-aboriginal name bestowed by U.S. protesters on this great expanse of temperate forest.
Then in September, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, better known as William and Kate, flew into Bella Bella airstrip in what I’m told was a wild and wet landing. Their Royal Highnesses announced that the forest is included in the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, a network of forest conservation programs including all 53 Commonwealth countries.
And then last week, a Texas-owned tugboat pushing a fuel barge south from Alaska ran aground near Bella Bella, and the now-familiar panic and posturing over transport of petroleum products resumed.
This comes as we await the decision of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet on the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline across B.C. to its Westridge terminal in Burnaby. This project is likely to be approved, increasing oil tanker traffic from Vancouver to the point where it almost matches the daily Alaska crude tankers sailing past Victoria.
Back to Bella Bella. The Nathan E. Stewart is not a crude tanker, but rather a tugboat and 10,000-tonne barge that transports refined fuel. The barge was empty when it ran aground Oct. 13, and the tugboat sank in shallow water.
The chorus of protest spread as quickly as the one-molecule-thick diesel sheen from the tug’s fuel tanks. Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett was quoted as saying clam beds at Hartley Bay up the coast have still not recovered from the fuel that escaped when the Queen of the North sank in 2006.
If that is true, perhaps it has something to do with another spill that foreign-funded radicals don’t mention. That’s when 15,000 litres of diesel was spilled into Hartley Bay on Dec. 29, 2007 during a transfer from a barge to a large on-shore storage tank that supplies the village’s only power source, diesel generators.
Day-to-day fuel use is the main risk. If the Heiltsuk protesters get their way, the risk of future fuel spills around Hartley Bay and Bella Bella would soon be reduced substantially. That’s because both of these villages would soon be deserted.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press.