Disposal at sea relocates silt from ocean floor

NANAIMO – Barges dumping material into the ocean are permitted to do so through Environment Canada's Disposal at Sea program.

Some north Nanaimo residents were concerned to see ocean dumping in the Strait of Georgia this summer, but it’s actually just business as usual.

Barges dumping material into the ocean are permitted to do so through Environment Canada’s Disposal at Sea program.

Nanaimo resident Manly Price often watches the water, on the lookout for whales, but on a few occasions this summer he’s seen a barge off-loading material into the sea near Neck Point Park.

“Sometimes it goes up in a black cloud,” he said.

Price called the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and was surprised to learn the practice is permitted.

According to Environment Canada, ocean-dumping permits have been granted since 1975 and are now regulated by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

“Each permit is granted following a detailed assessment and sets conditions to protect the marine environment and human health,” said Danny Kingsberry, an Environment Canada spokesman, in an e-mail.

At least four B.C. companies are allowed to dump dredged material – though not all do so – within a half-nautical-mile radius of the Five Finger Island disposal site. The only local permittee is Saltair Marine Services, contracted by Coastland Wood Industries.

“In our case, because our business is sort of at the mouth of the Chase River, the head of the Nanaimo River estuary, there’s a lot of silt that comes down and the silt basically piles up and we run out of water…” said Hans de Visser, Coastland president. “We need a certain amount of depth underneath our boom boats and tugboats to get logs up to the edge of the land.”

The permit allows the dumping of up to 10,000 cubic metres annually of gravel, sand, silt and clay.

According to an e-mail from another Environment Canada spokesman, Mark Johnson, permit holders “must follow specific mitigation measures which may include timing restrictions to ensure that other uses of the sea or ecological processes are not adversely impacted, for example, sensitive fishery periods.”

Melinda Skeels, president of the Georgia Strait Alliance, offered an e-mailed statement, saying her environmental group is always concerned if potentially harmful materials are dumped in the ocean.

“We do know that a healthy and protected marine environment is good for the economy and good for our communities,” Skeels said.

The whale watcher Price said the dredging is understandable, as he’s seen the silt come down the river, and decided that ocean dumping isn’t as concerning as he first thought.

“In every [industrial] activity there’s an interface between what you do to have the least amount of impact on the environment and enable the operation to continue,” de Visser said.