Watson Island fuel leaking into ocean?

There was an interesting article last night and early this morning in the online edition of Northern View entitled “Watson Island pipe leaking fuel oil into ocean”, but it has since been taken off the Black Press site. What gives with that?

[Edit: Silobreaker had a link to the story and still has a couple of quotes, including that an Emergency Response Officer will be on-site < news.silobreaker.com/fuel-oil-le … 3650984001 >.]

The article said that there was a leak of Bunker 6 fuel oil and described its’ characteristics, such as that it forms tar balls in water, and cited an anonymous, “reliable” source who has knowledge of the property, as well as a City representative who did not have much time to talk. The property is apparently closed to local reporters.

Meanwhile, as noted on another thread < City council breaches closed meeting requirements >, the City council had an unexpected Special Meeting on Thursday night where they dealt with one public issue for all of 5 minutes 30 seconds, then re-convened into a closed meeting, but without stating the reason for doing so.

That the council held a Special Meeting was surprising considering that the regular meeting for the 29th was cancelled for a summer break and there was only one small item on the agenda, < northcoastreview.blogspot.ca/201 … uncil.html >.

As noted in the other thread, section 92 of the Community Charter requires that to exclude the public from a council meeting a resolution to that effect must be passed in public - which they did (at least in the video portion) - but they neglected to state “the basis under the applicable subsection of section 90 on which the meeting or part is to be closed”.

On that latter point, civic officials apparently say that prior to the brief public meeting where the video was rolling they had held another “public meeting” (the video was not on and no one from the public seems to have been present) where they passed the resolution stating the reason for closing the meeting.

However, note that the council is required to state the reason for closing “the meeting or part of the meeting”. Whether the meeting after the (second?) public meeting was a separate closed meeting or another “part” of the meeting referred to in the public notice, they still have to state the basis for excluding the public.

Also curious is that past and consistent practice has been to publish a notice of any Special Meeting where the first order of business is a resolution under the Community Charter to exclude the public. However, on this occasion they did not do that.

When Watson Island is on the closed meeting agenda the public is excluded because the subject matter relates to “the acquisition, disposition or expropriation of land or improvements”.

If the subject matter of the closed meeting was a fuel leak from Watson Island, though, they really could not credibly cite that as a reason. The more appropriate authority would be to consider “litigation or potential litigation affecting the municipality”. If fuel is leaking into the ocean and into fish habitat there certainly would be potential for litigation.

So what do we make of all this?

A story is taken offline that, citing an anonymous source, says that fuel is leaking into the ocean from a municipal property. A few days prior the council unexpectedly held a Special Meeting on short notice to consider only one brief public item, then re-convened a closed meeting, apparently after holding an earlier closed meeting, but without giving the usual notice of the reason or stating the reason that the Community Charter requires even when excluding the public from “part of the meeting”.

In view of the potential seriousness of fuel leaks into the ocean, hopefully local reporters or others in the know will get to the bottom of things and fill in some details. Perhaps as well the council, which is of course thoroughly committed to transparent governance, might shed some light on these puzzling events.

Why did the Northern View remove the story?

It can be found on this link: pastebin.com/zkReQL8P

North Coast Review offers an account of a brief CBC report on a fuel leak on Watson Island and the dispatch of a Ministry of the Environment officer to the site, along with comments citing earlier reports, including the March 27 story where the Northern View described Watson Island, as “a rusting and gutted whale, leaching toxins with impunity”. northcoastreview.blogspot.ca/201 … is-it.html

Looking over that article from a few months back, and leaving aside the occasional lapse into hyperbole and an accounting error over maintenance costs (the City has reported offsetting lease revenue), the place certainly appears to be a mess and is no doubt going to cost somebody or another a great deal of money to clean up. I cannot see Watco picking up that tab; their focus would have to be on capping liabilities so that they can invest in a new business there.

The NCR article also reminds us of a TK interview in which the Mayor linked Watson Island to the possibility of City bankruptcy by early 2014.

Perhaps he went too far in making that grim prediction, but hopefully the City will soon make a public and well reasoned proposal to the Province for financial support. Something more thoughtful than a simplistic demand or a “lay the boots to them” type statement (some on council really need to move beyond violent analogies) would seem to be called for.

A case might be made that without assistance environmental damage is inevitable, potentially large scale and perhaps imminent; the City’s financial resources are limited; the threats extend to other jurisdictions and engage other interests; and there is a history of Provincial involvement in the former pulp mill. The Environmental Management Act extends potential liability to former owners, which in this case includes the Province itself, and there are precedents for Provincial funding to help clean-up derelict pulp mills.

Perhaps this is an issue that would be well suited to MLA Jennifer Rice’s priorities and background, if she can tear herself away from the ongoing discussion of LNG issues. So much is being and will be said about LNG by so many people that nothing will be lost if for a while she is silent on that front and focuses on Watson Island as a constituency level concern with wider significance.

cbc.ca/news/canada/british-c … nment.html

I see that the City council is convening a closed meeting for tonight to discuss Watson Island on very short notice, this time using the usual notice that the first item of business will be to exclude the public < princerupert.ca/images/edito … Agenda.pdf >.

The basis for closing to meeting is to consider “the acquisition, disposition or expropriation of land or improvements, if the council considers that disclosure could
reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the municipality - Watson Island;”.

That authority under section 90(1)(e) of the Community Charter more appropriately applies to issues around selling the land, rather than to an oil leak, but in any event it is good to see that the council will be talking about the issue, even if like so many of their discussions the public is excluded and subsequent public statements are few and far between.

Since the CBC is now following the story, perhaps the City council will issue a public statement that, who knows, maybe even Black Press will report and hopefully keep online for more than a few hours.

During the campaign period of the Provincial election I called and asked Jennifer Rice what her position on the was. She told me that neither her or anyone in her party were even talking about the possible pollution risks on Watson Island. I suggested that it might be of concern all of us and that she must be very aware of the situation as she was a council member at the time.
No plan of action was in place that she knew of. The NDP did not have it on their agenda as far as she knew and she had no plan to deal with this eventuality.
This kind of tells us what kind of environmental consideration is being given to the mess out there I think.
We are encouraged to rally rally against the pipeline that might hurt the environment but in the mean time we simply ignore what is already a looming disaster… that’s old news.
Nobody gives a damn about our old toys, they just want to argue about who gets a piece of the new ones.