Friday, August 17, 2012

What Small Boat Users Know That Corporations Don't

There's something important that kayakers, and rowers, and canoeists, and even powered boat users know. Islands are a pretty darned permanent feature of a shoreline.
Oh sure, sandbars move. And volcanoes make new islands appear. And some river islands erode at one end and accrete at the other so it looks like the island is moving very slowly downstream. But on the time scale of a boat passing through a waterway, an island is a fixed feature. It's going to be there the next time the boat passes, even if the tide is ebbing instead of flooding, or the spring run-off is late in the river.
How interesting, then, to see in the Times-Colonist newspaper that Enbridge's video for their route for their planned pipeline from Alberta's Tar Sands to Kitimat shows an odd map of Douglas Channel where their oil tankers will be docking. A still from their video shows the inlet as follows in the article:

The Times-Colonist's article includes an image of the same inlet, corrected to reflect the actual maps and charts of the inlet, showing 1,000 square kilometres of islands. Douglas Channel is not a wide open bay -- it is a narrow, twisting fjord, and any route to Kitimat takes several turns around islands.

And if this map is starting to look a little familiar, turn it on its side and you might recognize the area that was in the news a few years ago. Gil Island is where the ferry Queen of the North ran aground and sank one night six years ago. And along the mainland shoreline is the village of Hartley Bay, where every able-bodied fisher scrambled out in their small boats to rescue the crew and passengers, and the rest of the villagers gave them food and shelter.

The Enbridge video has doctored not just one image of Douglas Channel, but another. The video's image of the province of BC includes the same change to the coastline, where all the islands in and around Douglas Channel are missing. Odd to see such a big gash into the coast at that spot, when the rest of the coast is reasonably close to realistic.

It's important for people with local knowledge of land and water conditions to use this knowledge. Lives can be saved. Habitat can be protected. Sustainable use can be made of places for work, recreation, and other purposes -- if local knowledge is applied. When a corporation is lying about the conditions in Douglas Channel, the lies will not make this place a safe deepwater port for oil tankers.
Petroleum products (such as my sea kayak made of rotomolded plastic) have to be used with awareness. Where do the raw materials come from? How can I use this product safely and sustainably? I'm trying to use my awareness and local knowledge so that good things can happen instead of avoidable errors. An oil tanker wreck in Douglas Channel would be a catastrophe.


  1. Wow, several comments coming.... My first thought was maybe the islands are going to be removed by the oil companies. Then as you described the intricate course that the tankers will have to take I remembered seeing damage from the exxon valdez spill - the exxon valdez missed one turn! Just one. I still saw damage 15 years later, and 40 miles away. So yes, the fears you have are real. And finally, I had a trip on the BC coast that had to change its plan because of that ferry accident. We had to change the direction of an expedition - and in the middle checked to see if there was ferry service to get us back, or we would have turned around. It all of a sudden feels like a small world.


    1. You're not the only one to ask if the oil companies intend to remove the islands -- I can comment that the islands are mountains of solid, dense rock that would be extremely hard to remove. It took incredible effort to blow Ripple Rock apart in Surge Narrows -- read about it at for that particular story!
      It really is a small world, and the fears I'm describing are real. Too many people and places get ruined by projects like this pipeline. We can do better.