Summer 1977 I went by Pole Pass Light twice a week on our La Conner to Stuart Island run for New England Fish Company. I recognize the reef in the photo real well.
In 1974, when my friend Mary Kay Becker’s book Superspill was published, it had only been two years since an oil spill at the Cherry Point refinery in Northwest Washington state had set in motion the genetic mutation and rapid decline of the Chinook salmon’s base feed stock of Pacific herring. A fictional account of a 1978 grounding at Bird Rocks, Superspill added to the clamor for stricter regulations on oil tanker shipping in Puget Sound, leading to the federal imposition in 1977 of size limits on tankers, requirements for double hulls and tug escorts. Now, thirty-five years later, Canada is poised to dramatically increase both the size and volume of oil tanker traffic between Port Metro Vancouver and China. Thanks to the Tar Sands in Alberta — the most carbon intensive industrial project in the world — and the backwardness of the Canadian Government, Puget Sound and the Salish Sea face a disastrous future.
As reported in the June 2, 2011 issue of The Tyee, due to extensive First Nations resistance to a new right-of-way for a proposed oil terminal at Kitimat, British Columbia, Kinder Morgan is planning to expand its pipeline capacity to Vancouver by six-fold. If this is allowed to happen, Oil Sands crude could be the catalyst for an Exxon-Valdez type spill in the Salish Sea. If the Suezmax tankers that carry one million barrels of crude begin calling at Vancouver, that and the proposed ten-fold increase over 2005 tanker transits mean it’s a matter of when, not if, a major oil spill devastates the Salish Sea ecosystem.
Combined with the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export facility proposed for Cherry Point, the volume of vessel traffic alone would become a nightmare for the Cooperative Vessel Traffic Service managing the already busy Special Operating Area at the intersection of Haro Strait and Boundary Pass, let alone piloting into Vancouver’s narrow Burrard Inlet. While this disaster waiting to happen might avoid Superspill‘s Bird Rocks of Rosario Strait, the devastation would be beyond most people’s imagination. Something to think about.
In Rumrunner to the Rescue, a story featured on Saltwater People Log, the old adage “no good deed goes unpunished” is played out in spades. As the valiant efforts of a true seaman turn the tables by sending him to prison for his illicit cargo, we are reminded that sometimes doing the right thing comes with a high price.
In the interest of full disclosure, prior to my transition to Bay Area citizen, I was an environmental activist in the Salish Sea–an area that includes the San Juan Islands, midway between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. As such, I came to know the Lummi Indians, as well as a corporate politico by the name of Craig Cole, who, at present, is a mouthpiece for international shipping companies hoping to transport coal from Cherry Point to China (through the Lummi salmon and crab fishing grounds), on behalf of Goldman Sachs and their subsidiary SSA Marine. While Cole and his Wall Street employers are entitled to their view, their inflammatory deceptions create unnecessary social discord.
During the salmon war between Salish Sea tribes and the State of Washington in the mid-1970s, I worked as an Alaska Fishermen’s Union salmon tender captain for New England Fish Company based in La Conner. My route was from there past the Anacortes San Juan Islands Ferry Landing to Friday Harbor, through Pole Pass skirting Orcas Island out to Stuart Island, then back to Griffin Bay and La Conner. This area is located in the center of the upper right map insert showing the American and Canadian shipping lanes. The NOAA chart for Boundary Pass (the route to Cherry Point between the Gulf Islands and San Juan Islands), provides a detailed description of hazards and aids to navigation.
Perhaps of interest to historians, in 1977, environmentalists working with then U.S. Senator Warren G. Magnuson of Washington, made supertankers off-limits to Puget Sound (now part of the recently-designated Salish Sea), requiring the permissible smaller oil tankers to have double hulls and tug escorts. Now, thirty-five years later, the proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point, which predicts 487 bulk carrier vessels per year, could circumvent those protections.
As Matt Krogh reported in the February 22, 2012 issue of Cascadia Weekly, these bulk carriers have the “worst safety record of any commercial vessels on the high seas.” To make matters worse, the bulk carriers — double the size of the oil tankers now allowed in the Salish Sea — are a mix of single and double hull, and exempt from requirements for tug escorts. Carrying 2 million gallons of bunker fuel each, these bulkers are a disaster waiting to happen. Even if they avoid grounding or collision, the loading and ballasting spells doom for the ecosystem of the Salish Sea.
For those who might be inclined, I left a comment on the San Francisco Chronicle article about Cherry Point coal shipping that hopefully clarifies the present conflict. As I remarked in my editorial at Intercontinental Cry, Wall Street’s attempt to pit indigenous peoples and environmentalists against organized labor and local governments hoping to cash in on the final wasting of the planet, is both disingenuous and inexcusable. Additional information about tribal interests and concerns can be found at the Coast Salish Gathering webpage on the transport and export of U.S. energy.
Meitheal Mara builds traditional Irish watercraft called currachs. Located in Cork, Ireland, they also build character in Irish youth and those who wish to carry on this maritime heritage.
Paddle to Swinomish landed this week. In 1977, I worked as a vessel captain for New England Fish Company in La Conner, just across the channel from the Swinomish Indian Reservation. The north end of the channel leads to Anacortes and the famed San Juan Islands, the south end to the renowned Deception Pass and Strait of Juan de Fuca.