Nanaimo could one day be the hub for emergency marine oil response along the Strait of Georgia and Vancouver Island.
Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, the organization responsible for cleaning up spills along B.C.’s coast, is proposing to build five new oil response bases on the Island, including one in Nanaimo.
Michael Lowry, communications manager with Western Canada Marine Response, said the base in Nanaimo would serve as the main hub for the entire operation.
"We will have a main facility in Nanaimo. That would be what we are calling our hub base and it would have the most assets," he said. "That's where our administration would be, our call centre and our dispatch centre."
Lowry said the new base would built on property near the Nanaimo Port Authority assembly wharf on Port Way and would create 22 full-time jobs.
The four other Island bases would be constructed in Port Alberni, Sidney, Ucluelet and Beecher Bay near Sooke. There would be an additional bases built along the Fraser River and in the Vancouver harbour.The entire project will cost an estimated $150-million according to Lowry, who said all the bases would be able to asset each other in the event of a massive oil spill.
"All these bases would be interlinked and they would be able to support each other if there was a larger spill," he said. "We can cascade resources into these different locations."
Bernie Dumas, president of the Nanaimo Port Authority, said he’s pleased Western Canada Marine has selected Nanaimo as the hub.
“We’ve been in discussions with WCMRC for a couple of years and Nanaimo is sort of an interesting location because we have great access to the Georgia Strait and we have a lot of talent here in the community,” he said.
Dumas said the construction of a new station in Nanaimo would be an economic benefit for the community, as the 22 new jobs are full-time and high-paying.
“The people that are going to be in here are all going to be specialists with marine capabilities,” he said.
The $150-million project hinges on whether the recently approved Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion project gets going.
"We've tried to get as close as possible to getting these stations built without actually having to put a shovel in the ground," Lowry said. "A lot of the engineering and permit work has been going on in the background, with the idea being that if an announcement happens, we are ready to go right away."
Lowry said the Texas-based oil company is required to pay for the oil response upgrades as part of the 158 conditions laid out by the National Energy Board.
"One of the conditions that came back from the National Energy Board was that this program be in place prior to the first delivery of fuel from the new expanded pipeline," he said.
If all goes to plan, construction could begin later this year and the facilities could operational by as early 2018.
"There still needs to be a final investment decision on behalf of Kinder Morgan," Lowry said. "Once that decision is made, which we are expecting in the first quarter of this year, that's when we are going to begin actual construction on these bases."