Jamie Stephens, at the direction of the San Juan County Council, recently co-signed a letter with the Islands’ Trust, a federation of local Canadian governments within the Salish Sea, to the Tanker Safety Panel Secretariat in Ottawa. This letter expressed their shared concerns about oil and coal spill risks posed by maritime shipping and the deficient state of Canadian readiness to respond to a major Salish Sea spill.
The letter informed the panel about the unique characteristics of our area which they described as home to some of the most productive and biologically-diverse ecosystems on earth. A spill in the Salish Sea, unlike a more exposed ocean environment, will rapidly disperse on our swift tidal currents onto our complex shorelines.
Because of these unique conditions and ecological values, and because oil spills do not stop at international boundaries, enhanced levels of spill prevention and response resources, and regulations, are necessary from both Canadian and U.S. governments.
Since the Expert Tanker Safety Panel is tasked with assisting Canada’s marine oil spill response regime, the letter identified six immediate needs to improve spill response capability, including on-going funding for response resources and vessel traffic control, and research on the heavy, toxic, sticky tar-sands oil such as diluted bitumen (Dilbit) in marine waters. Public disclosure of risks by regulators and industry and regulatory rationality between all agencies, including tribal and local governments, nonprofits and communities were also mentioned.
Their letter concluded with the hope that the panel will develop recommendations to help both countries provide the best possible protection for our region’s ecology, economy, and cultural resources.
The letter expressed the concerns of many San Juan County citizens and our Canadian neighbors. I thank the Council for taking a leadership role in protecting the Salish Sea from the dangers associated with increasing vessel traffic.