Response to statements by Ministry of Environment, Kirby Corporation

Bella Bella, B.C. (October 13, 2017) – This week marks the one-year anniversary of the fuel spill in Bella Bella’s Gale Passage.

To mark the occasion, Heiltsuk Tribal Council issued a press release noting that Kirby Corporation has been unwilling to meet requests for comprehensive post-spill research or a health impact assessment. Instead, the U.S.-owned corporation has purported to be proceeding with a limited environmental impact assessment, looking only at sampling and monitoring work conducted in a short period of time after the oil spill and a one-week period in early 2017.

In response, Kirby Corporation issued the following statement, as published in The Globe & Mail:

“Kirby would prefer to work to find pragmatic solutions without engaging in media battles and litigation,’ said Matt Woodruff. But he said the company is confident it will successfully defend its actions in court.

For the past year, Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett has been working on behalf of Heiltsuk to broker cooperation with the polluter and B.C. Ministry of Environment, to no avail.

Heiltsuk is very much interested in a pragmatic solution, which is why we proposed a comprehensive impact assessment to determine the impact of the spill on our territory, resources, and community. Contrary to rebuffing Kirby, we’ve requested them and the B.C. Ministry of Environment to engage in this work multiple times,” says the Chief Councillor. “It is difficult for Heiltsuk to have faith in Kirby discussing pragmatic solutions when they won’t engage in a full impact assessment, and has left Heiltsuk with a $140,000 bill for sampling that they conducted earlier this year.

Following the spill, Heiltsuk advised Kirby Corporation and the governments that a full impact assessment needed to be conducted, including:

  1. a Human Impact Assessment regarding the physical, social, and economic impacts on the community;
  2. an Environmental Impact Assessment that included the interim and long-term assessment of the marine environment and the ecosystem, marine resources (marine, wildlife, and vegetation); and
  3. a Traditional Impact Assessment utilizing traditional knowledge (cultural and ecological).

Since then, Heiltsuk has sought consultation on a full impact assessment.  The Crown agencies have been silent in response.  Meanwhile, an environmental impact assessment is yet to be conducted.

The problem has been that B.C. Ministry of Environment and Kirby Corporation want to conduct a limited environmental impact assessment with no commitment ensuring Heiltsuk can engage in the environmental impact assessment.

Currently, an environmental impact assessment is not required by law or regulation for a marine oil spill. In 2016, amendments to the Environmental Management Act – which concerns matters within the jurisdiction of the B.C. Ministry of Environment – were passed to correct for this, but are still not in force. These changes would require the responsible party to perform a comprehensive environmental impact assessment. This legislative enactment would require the polluter to conduct and finance the comprehensive environmental impact assessment that Heiltsuk needs, yet, B.C. has refrained from making this possible.

Instead, the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Kirby Corporation have been negotiating a memorandum of agreement regarding a limited impact assessment and excluded Heiltsuk from those discussions.

In a statement issued yesterday to The Canadian Press, B.C. Minister of Environment, George Heyman, said:

B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman was not available for an interview, but in a statement he said improvements in spill responses and recovery are needed and First Nations must be included in the process.

The government is seeking Heiltsuk input into plans to recover from the spill, he added.

“While funding for ship-source spills is a federal responsibility we are open to working with the (Heiltsuk) and the federal government on additional federal and provincial regulatory provisions to address all aspects of response and recovery,” Heyman said.

Chief Councillor Slett had the following to say: “We welcome Minister Heyman working with Heiltsuk. When I met with the Minister in September, I impressed upon him the importance of putting in force the environmental impact provisions in the Environmental Management Act that would require polluters to carry out full impact assessments, and pay for them. We see this as the top priority for Minister Heyman, and Heiltsuk will be pleased to work with his Ministry to implement these provisions, which will require that Kirby Corporation engage in and pay for full impact assessments.”

At this point in time, Heiltsuk is proceeding with its own environmental impact assessments and welcomes the support and involvement of the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Kirby Corporation in that effort.

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