The B.C. government has become the owner of a former war ship - HMCS Annapolis - and plans to sink it as a diving attraction in Halkett Bay Marine Provincial Park, despite an outcry from local residents.
The fate of the Annapolis was announced by the Artificial Reef Society of B.C. this week, much to the dismay of a group that has been fighting the proposed sinking over concerns about environmental impact and increased dive-boat traffic.
"After three years of hard work and perseverance, the ARSBC has been officially advised that the former HMCS Annapolis was accepted as a gift to the B.C. Provincial Parks Branch," the society states on its website. "With this confirmation, the Annapolis now has a new mission to become a long-term stable marine habitat in Halkett Bay."
The Ministry of Environment confirmed the arrangement in a brief statement to The Globe and Mail, saying the vessel was accepted on March 8, and the ship will be sunk "for the creation of an artificial reef, subject to certain conditions, including ARSBC first having obtained all required government approvals under any applicable statute, bylaw, or other enactment."
Andrew Strang, of the Save Halkett Bay Campaign, said his group is shocked by the news, because last year the B.C. parks branch rejected the proposal, stating in a Nov. 4, 2010, letter to ARSBC that the ship could not be sunk without changes to the park master plan, which would require public consultation.
Mr. Strang says there has been no such consultation, and he wondered why the outgoing environment minister, Murray Coell, would have made such a controversial decision just before leaving office. Terry Lake was named the new minister on March 14.
"This is a shameful political act committed by an outgoing caretaker less than a week before his brief tenure was cut short by the new Premier. It was kept secret until today," said a statement released Thursday by the Save Halkett Bay Campaign. "Clearly this is the first test of whether Christy Clark's government is going to be serious about upholding the process for making decisions affecting the environment. We call on Minister Terry Lake to examine his Ministry's previous assessment of the legality of this action, and its harmful impact on the environment, and reverse what is clearly a political decision."
But Howard Robins, president of the ARSBC, welcomed the decision, saying it will be good for the diving community and the environment. He said the ship will go down in about 30 metres of water sometime this year.
"She is the last of her kind," he said of the Annapolis, a 113-metre destroyer that was launched in 1963 and served on both coasts before being decommissioned in 1996 and sold to ARSBC in 2008.
Mr. Robins said the vessel will create an artificial reef in Halkett Bay, part of Howe Sound north of Vancouver, which will attract both divers and marine life. He said volunteers have spent thousands of hours stripping the ship of anything that could pollute the waters, and when it is sunk it will have sections of the hull removed, so divers can get access to the engine room.
The ARSBC has sunk several warships, as well as a Boeing 737 aircraft, on the B.C. coast over the past 20 years, drawing divers from around the world.
Mr. Robins said the sea floor where the ship will rest has been degraded over the years because log booms are stored in the bay. Over the decades, bark and branches from the logs settled to the bottom, creating layers of fibre and blotting out life.
"It's pretty much a moonscape," he said. "Annapolis will create an artificial reef and bring life back to the waters."
Nicholas Simons, NDP MLA for the area and Opposition critic on the environment, said he was surprised the government made the decision, then kept it quiet for more than three weeks. He said the process is not in keeping with Ms. Clark's promise of open government. "It doesn't look good," he said.