Concerns over Kitsilano coast guard closure lead to Vancouver council, park board motions
Concerns from city officials over the closure of the Kitsilano coast guard station have prompted motions at both Vancouver city council and park board next week.
Mayor Gregor Robertson will move a motion on Tuesday (May 29) to write a letter to the federal government expressing the city’s opposition to the closure of the Kitsilano coast guard station, and to the recently-announced closures of the coast guard communications centre in Vancouver and the B.C. command centre for emergency oil spills.
His motion also calls for staff to report back on potential safety and financial impacts of the closures, including increased service demands on the city’s first responders.
The federal government’s plan to close the Canadian Coast Guard Kitsilano Search and Rescue Station due to budget cuts has been criticized by the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, which represents nine search and rescue staff at the centre.
Christine Collins, the national president of the union, said Kitsilano is the busiest search and rescue station in Canada, with 300 calls handled last year. She said if services are consolidated at the Sea Island station in Richmond, it could as much as double the coast guard’s response time.
“There’ll be critical time lost for persons that are either in the water or in an emergency situation, and that can mean the difference of life and death,” she told the Straight by phone from Ottawa.
The Vancouver park board will also be discussing the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station at its next meeting on Monday (May 28), according to chair Constance Barnes.
Non-Partisan Association park commissioner John Coupar said he has put forward a motion requesting a staff report on the potential impacts of the closure of the station.
Coupar, who is a boater, said he has witnessed a number of times when the Kitsilano coast guard station has played a crucial role in rescue services.
“I’m very concerned about this because we have a lot of things that are under our control…certainly the marinas, and we have a lot of dragonboaters that are in the harbour, we have big events like the Symphony of Fire where we get thousands of boaters right in the bay—so I think it’s going to have a big impact if it does go through,” he told the Straight.
Barnes, who said she has heard from other commissioners concerned about the closure of the station, expects the board to express its opposition to the government's decision.
“We’ll fight the fight, we’ll work with the city, we’re going to be loud and squeaky and make sure that federal government knows that this is not an acceptable choice of how to tighten their belts,” Barnes said in a phone interview.
She added Vancouver is “not in a position to pick up the slack” from reduced search and rescue services in the area, and noted the park board’s rangers are already stretched thin.
“I think it’s a tragedy waiting to happen,” she said. “We’re very scared, because safety has got to be number one.”
Department of Fisheries and Oceans spokesperson Frank Stanek said the Sea Island base and the Kitsilano base provide "overlapping services" and that the government decided to consolidate services into the Sea Island base on the advice of the Canadian Coast Guard.
“This will not change coverage service levels and will not compromise safety,” he said in a statement. "This move will align services in Vancouver with levels that currently exist at other, comparable ports in Canada.”
Stanek said a new hovercraft will be added to search and rescue services in Vancouver in the fall of 2013, and a new in-shore rescue boat will be in service during busy seasons.