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K’ómoks First Nation responds to ship-breaking activity in unceded territory

KFN calls Union Bay ship-breaking business ‘an environmental disaster waiting to happen’
Deep Water Recovery Ltd., a ship-breaking company located in Union Bay, has been the topic of concern for residents and K’ómoks First Nation alike. Photo by Terry Farrell

Calling it “an environmental disaster waiting to happen,” K’ómoks First Nation responded to the ship-breaking activities in Union Bay, which is within KFN’s traditional, unceded territory.

As reported by Black Press last month, a ship-breaking business has set roots in the area.

RELATED: Ship-breaking generates complaints from Union Bay

A public notice sent out by residents in the area stated Union Bay Industries had run a log sorting business until 2018 when it was sold to foreign owners, who started a ship-breaking business.

Black Press reached out to Area A director Daniel Arbour, who said the Comox Valley Regional District has received numerous complaints since this operation started two years ago.

On Thursday, Dec. 16, KFN sent out a press release, addressing concerns about the business, Deep Water Recovery LTD, and its operations in Union Bay.

“This is a shellfish rich and sensitive ecological area, accounting for 50 per cent of B.C.’s shellfish tenures, including important shellfish stocks for KFN’s economic, food, social and ceremonial uses,” reads the press release.

“Considering the other environmental impacts in the area, such as a leaching coal slag heap and faulty septic tanks, why would we jeopardize this area further?” said Hegus (KFN Chief Councillor) Nicole Rempel. “Where do we draw the line?”

Among the concerns from residents is that the area is not zoned for ship-breaking activity, and therefore, the company in question is in contravention of bylaws. District staff members have been working with the operator to ensure their activities comply with bylaws. If not, Arbour said the operator must pursue a temporary use permit or rezoning application.

In the press release, KFN said it shares many of the same environmental concerns as the area residents, about toxic discharge, such as lead and asbestos, among other elements.

In his previous interview with Black Press, Arbour said “our three levels of government, and K’omoks First Nation, need to co-ordinate and get this right, not only on this particular case but on many others as it relates to Baynes Sound.”

In its Dec. 16 release, KFN points out that this issue is not new, and efforts at resolution have been fruitless.

“For more than 18 months, and as recently as this October, KFN has been expressing their concerns about this specific situation to both the federal and provincial governments, as well as to the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD), without resolution.”

KFN says a lack of federal and provincial regulations means any action taken will only be after a disaster strikes.

“We’ve discovered that there are no federal or provincial regulations in place for the deconstruction of ships on land. Until it’s too late and an actual environmental impact happens, there is nothing holding the company accountable, just voluntary adherence to the guidelines they’ve set for themselves,” said Rempel. “We know it isn’t a matter of if, but rather, when something environmentally damaging is going to happen with these harmful activities.

“We know Canada needs to be playing a role in the responsible dismantling of old ships – but Union Bay is not the place to do it.”

Scroll down to read a copy of the K’ómoks First Nation press release in its entirety.

–With files from Scott Stanfield