Article courtesy of Cathy Dobson | August 3, 2012 | Sarnia Observer | Shared as educational material only
The recent sinking of a barge in southern Lake Huron and the subsequent diesel spill is prompting mayors from cities surrounding the Great Lakes to demand better emergency response.
“The real concern is on the Canadian side,” said Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley. “The Harper government closed emergency management centres in the last budget, eliminated programs that help municipalities finance emergency services and they’ve cut the coast guard.”
Bradley discussed the July 19 spill with several other mayors this week, all members of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.
The group is a binational coalition of about 85 cities interested in protecting and restoring the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.
“The assurances the Canadian government gave us two years ago that they have the ability to deal with an emergency on the Great Lakes needs to be revisited because they’ve pulled back on the level of service and ability to respond,” Bradley said.
The mayors’ group is raising their concerns in letters to Ottawa and Washington.
Emergency response to a major incident on the Great Lakes became a key issue for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative three years ago after the BP spill in the Gulf Coast.
“But in this case, we’re dealing with fresh water and the drinking water supply to 50 million people,” Bradley said.
Executive members of the mayors’ group held a conference call with Bradley and the U.S. Coast Guard following the July 19 incident, which occurred 12 kilometres north of Sarnia. A dredge and tugboat sank and an estimated 2,200 litres of diesel oil escaped, which reached beaches on the Michigan side.
Sarnia emergency response planners were not made aware of the leak for about four hours, prompting questions about communications between the two countries.
Bradley said the incident was reviewed with the U.S. Coast Guard during the teleconference.
“They did acknowledge there were issues on communications as it related to Sarnia,” he said. “But they did follow their protocol and talked to the Canadian Coast Guard. That worked.
“It’s protocols between local counties and cities that didn’t work and that’s an issue we’ll deal with ourselves.”
Bradley noted a conference call took place Thursday while crews worked to free a 634-foot freighter after it ran aground near the Sarnia shoreline .
The water intake pipe at the Lambton Area Water Supply System was shut down throughout the day in case sentiment from the lake bottom was stirred up.
“It was ironic we were having this phone call when a freighter had lost control.”
Bradley said two incidents in two weeks underline the need for adequate emergency response.
“Are we ready internationally to deal with an incident?” he asked. “With all the cuts … my own view is I don’t see how.”
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