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British Columbia North Vancouver mayor latest to express concern over oil-spill response

A spill response boat secures a boom around the bulk carrier cargo ship MV Marathassa after a bunker fuel spill on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, B.C., on April 9, 2015. Contrary to the Canadian Coast Guard’s claim, oil expert Steven Candito says the response may have been too slow.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The mayor of North Vancouver says a fuel spill on English Bay could have been worse and he's concerned the pace of the response suggests the Canadian Coast Guard has a "significant lack of resources."

But the coast guard is standing by its response, saying the spill occurred in a "fog of war."

The spill was first reported by a person on a sailboat around 5 p.m. on April 8. The coast guard has said it did not recognize the seriousness of the spill until 8 p.m. It has said a boom was secured around the leaking vessel by 5:53 a.m.

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Roger Girouard, assistant commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard, appeared at a meeting of Metro Vancouver mayors on Friday. One of the discussion topics was pipeline safety and Mr. Girouard was joined by Peter Watson, chair of the National Energy Board.

Richard Walton, mayor of the district of North Vancouver, said he was concerned about the length of time it took to respond to the English Bay spill.

"The spread of the oil and the consequences could have been significantly more severe. … We don't think [spill response is] adequate right now, let alone increasing volumes and increasing tanker traffic ," he said.

Mr. Walton said he recognizes the coast guard can't respond to a call within minutes, like a fire hall.

"However, when you're looking at the inner harbour area I think there's an expectation that it wouldn't be unreasonable to know that there's people on call who are ready to literally jump in boats and get out there and get going. And it appears that right now the level of response time is far from perhaps what most of our residents, what most of our local governments, would anticipate," he said.

The coast guard's response has also been criticized by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and B.C. Premier Christy Clark, among others. The coast guard has said its response was exceptional and pointed to the fact 80 per cent of the fuel was recovered within 36 hours. Mr. Girouard has said he does not believe the coast guard has a lack of resources.

On Friday, Mr. Girouard said there needs to be a conversation about a "better integrated process."

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"The coast guard wants to be a part of that conversation," he said.

Mr. Girouard said he would not offer any apologies for the spill response.

"They swept through the night, first time ever in this port, and collected the lion's share of oil, which is why we didn't have a worse scenario on the beaches. So I'm not going to apologize for, in the dark of night, it's unclear – you all recognize the concept of fog of war, well this was fog of spill," he said.

Mayor Robertson, who chaired the meeting, said the region's tourism sector has done very well and a spill could put it in serious danger.

"That success is at risk with incidents like we've just seen on the water here. The images of Vancouver with an oil spill on the water went global," he said.

Mayor Robertson also had harsh words for the NEB chair. He said the mayors have made it very clear the board's process for the Kinder Morgan pipeline project is flawed, pointing to what he said was a lack of environmental consideration and public consultation.

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"There is an absolute lack of confidence in the NEB process that's taking place right now with respect to the Kinder Morgan proposal," he said.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said he believes the NEB process is "a sham."

Mr. Watson said the NEB has not been as good as it should be at engaging with communities. He said he is now on an "engagement tour" and meeting with officials across the country.

"That's the reason I'm here today, is to engage with communities in the Lower Mainland," he said.

He noted the NEB has now opened an office in Vancouver and will also be opening an office in Montreal.

He said the intent is to establish "a deeper, closer working relationship and [ensure] that we're hearing from you what we need to do better."

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