BRITISH COLUMBIA

Namu, B.C. Is An Environmental Disaster Waiting To Happen: Activists

01/06/2015 04:45 EST | Updated 01/06/2015 04:59 EST

Once home to a buoyant fish processing industry, the abandoned coastal town of Namu, B.C. is now a ticking time bomb of pollution, according to an environmental advocacy group.

In a new video shot in Namu last month, Pacific Wild draws attention to the environmental threat, which many British Columbians may not know about — despite the fact that it's been festering for over a decade.

The fish plant site is deteriorating; buildings are falling apart and leaking chemicals into the water. A derelict ship called the Chilcotin Princess, which continually smashes into the side of a main building, is at risk of sinking.

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The derelict Chilcotin Princess is at risk of sinking.

"The immediate environmental impact is all of the hazardous waste that is falling into the ocean," Pacific Wild executive director Ian McAllister told The Huffington Post B.C.

He said many of the buildings still house barrels of oil, diesel, turpentine, and creosote. Some are beginning to rust through and their contents are seeping into the ocean. Others barrels are covered by asbestos, or have been battered by storms and are close to toppling into the water.

"When you walk around the site, all you do is smell petroleum products and other products," McAllister said. "And it's all leaching right into the ocean, which is right smack against the really important sockeye salmon [run]."

He said the area also has incredible cultural history, pointing to evidence that suggests humans lived here as far back as 10,000 years ago.

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Namu in December 2014

The original Namu cannery was established in 1893. The site shifted to fish processing in 1980. In its heyday, the 80-acre plant employed about 400 people.

The site went through a series of owners before being sold to Namu Properties Ltd. in 1995. Owner David Milne intended to create a commercial fishing resort, oil buying station, and fish buying station, according to Pacific Wild, but by 1997, the necessary permits and licences expired. Since then, the site has deteriorated to the state it's in today.

Pacific Wild, along with the Heiltsuk Nation (located in nearby Bella Bella), has spent years trying to get the provincial and federal governments to pay attention to Namu.

"We really have tried everything. We've met with all levels of government. We've made formal complaints over these last few years to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada, the Ministry of Environment, and absolutely nothing has changed on the ground there," McAllister said.

"And now coastal communities are really concerned about the amount of pollution that will probably occur this winter as storms begin hitting the coast and buildings fall apart even further."

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Namu in December 2014

Staff from the B.C. Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) inspected Namu in September 2014 and "identified a number of public safety and environmental concerns," said a government statement emailed to HuffPost B.C.

The FLNRO sent a letter to Namu Properties at the end of October which outlined "immediate actions required to ensure the site is in a safe condition."

The environment ministry said if it considers the cleanup efforts as inadequate, then it could issue a pollution prevention order that requires the owner to take action at his expense.

On Dec. 29, 2014, the ministry told The Tyee that Namu Properties had until the end of that year to submit a plan of action for Namu, but that has since passed.

No new deadline was released to HuffPost B.C.

Milne, the owner of Namu Properties, told The Tyee that the derelict Chilcotin Princess, would be towed to Richmond sometime this month and that other plans were in motion to handle the deteriorating processing plant.

The ship was still there as of Monday.

For those worried about the state of Namu, the government's handling of the situation outlines a larger problem.

"If Victoria and Ottawa can’t step in when an old fish plant starts to collapse into the sea, how can officials be trusted to guard against the potentially larger threats posed by oil tankers and LNG facilities, which have been proposed in the same region?" Mark Hume wrote in The Globe And Mail in July 2014.

It's a worry echoed by McAllister:

"If they can't even deal with a cannery that's been standing still for a decade, and people — especially local First Nations — have been pleading with the government to do at least an initial risk assessment and cleanup and it's just been ignored time and time again, how can we expect our government to respond to an oil tanker?"

He pointed to the Chilcotin Princess as an example of the province's lack of ownership over the cleanup.

"They actually told us they thought the ship that is still there today was secured and not at risk of sinking," McAllister said.

"It's full of water, it's lifting over, it's virtually untied, and it's just rolling back and forth, smashing into the buildings, which is causing more and more damage. It's really negligent on our government's part in that they have a mandate to protect the marine environment and clearly that's what's at risk here."

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