Lighthouse destaffing plan dropped

Lighthouses will continue to shine under the careful hands of lightkeepers on B.C. coasts.

Lighthouses will continue to shine under the careful hands of lightkeepers on B.C. coasts.

Destaffing plans are halted, John Duncan, Vancouver Island North Conservative MP, announced Wednesday on behalf of Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea.

“This is great news for B.C.,” said Duncan, adding that the senate committee tasked with reviewing the destaffing issue had open minds and listened to stakeholders’ concerns.

The move comes as a relief to Alice Woods, acting president of the B.C. Lightkeepers Local 20232 PSAC, who has been vocal about this issue since it arose in the fall of 2009.

“It’s a real win for democracy,” she said. “The energy that has gone into this has been about protecting the people we serve.”

The Canadian Coast Guard planned to destaff and automate lighthouses  in B.C., Newfoundland and Labrador – including Entrance Island near Nanaimo – to cut costs, but Shea put a stop to the movement and ordered a review to address concerns. The senate committee recommended in December that destaffing be halted.

Bill Rompkey, chairman of the committee, said members were surprised and delighted about the announcement.

“It’s not every day that a senate committee gets a response that is so positive, so quickly,” he said. “Even more pleased will be the public on the coast that appeared before us and spoke so passionately about the issue. Their passion and commitment moved us and it clearly moved the minster as well.”

The committee said public safety was the key reason lighthouses should remain manned.

“When it comes to essential safety services, cost-cutting measures can be entirely ineffective,” said Woods.

Rompkey said the committee’s final report dealing with the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act is expected to be released this week.

Nearly 1,000 Canadian lighthouses were declared surplus and preservation of the lighthouses required individuals, community groups, municipalities and others to present a petition to acquire them. The committee was investigating if there were any obstacles groups had to acquiring lighthouses, their cultural importance and other issues.

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