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Time is now to be better prepared | Guest Column
By Stephanie Buffum
Hundreds of thousands of tourists enjoy the beauty of the San Juan Islands annually. Coast Salish canoes travel their ancestral waterways, families rent sailboats and yachts, children attend camps, kayakers paddle, and vacationers enjoy our local restaurants, accommodations, and shops.
Maintaining the beauty of these islands is critical to preserving our local and regional economy.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation supports 115,000 jobs and contributes $11.7 billion to the state economy. In San Juan County, tourism is valued to generate over $51 million dollars in spending and 669 jobs.
A large oil spill would change this overnight.
Current best-case scenario for the clean-up of a major spill is estimated at only 20 percent to 35 percent. The state’s Oil Spill Contingency Plan Rule is being revised and public comment is being taken through Oct. 4.
This is our time to speak up and ensure we have plans in place before the projected 887 new cargo ships exporting coal and diluted bitumen tar sands travel our waters. These 887 cargo ships will transit through our waters 1774 times to ports at March Point, Anacortes, proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, Bellingham, and Vancouver Harbor, British Columbia.
Although the current version of the draft rule it a good start, we need more protection for the islands.
As a Planning Standard Area, only the resources to meet the two and three hour standards must be resident. To meet the four and six-hour planning standard, the law only requires that equipment and personnel reach the nearest border of the Planning Standard Area in the required time frame.
It is doable for equipment and personnel resident in Anacortes, Bellingham Bay, or Port Angeles to reach the east side of our county in the required four and six-hour time frames. However, there are no assurances that the four and six-hour planning standards can be met if there is a major spill in Haro Strait.
Having San Juan County identified as a Staging Area and having additional spill response equipment and personnel resident in our county will significantly improve our capacity to contain and clean up a spill.
Please request the following:
• Identify and designate San Juan County as a Staging Area;
• Distribute equipment and personnel to the San Juans sufficient to address the risk from oil and diluted bitumen tar sands spill;
• Require and ensure the ability to respond, contain and cleanup spills of oils that sink. Potentially sinking oils include Group V oils, bunker fuels, and diluted bitumen tar sands;
• Require that all contingency plans, technical manuals, and planning standards be publicly available on Ecology’s website;
• Require that public review and comment be provided on all proposed changes to contingency plans, technical manuals, and planning standards.
Public Hearings are scheduled for this rule Sept. 25 in Marysville and Sept. 27 in Vancouver, and written comments will be taken through Oct. 4.
You may provide comments in the following ways: Email to: email@example.com and to firstname.lastname@example.org, FAX: 360-407-7288. Web: Sept. 25 at www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/spills/community_outreach/sppr_webinar.html.
— Editor’s note: Stephanie Buffum is executive director of Friends of the San Juans.