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COAST GUARD NOT PREPARED FOR SPILL: RUNCIMAN

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COAST GUARD NOT PREPARED FOR SPILL: RUNCIMAN

OTTAWA - The Canadian Coast Guard base at Prescott no longer has the resources to deal with a significant spill or accident, Senator Bob Runciman believes.

Runciman, speaking in the Senate this afternoon, said the workforce at the Prescott base has shrunk by two-thirds and many of the lost jobs were in trades that were especially suited to dealing with a spill along the Seaway.

"These people were trained to save lives, to deal with hazardous materials, to work on the water, to use emergency radios. They knew how to deploy a boom," Runciman said. "Those positions are now long gone."

In addition to the workforce shrinking from 120 at one time to approximately 40, the base has also lost the two helicopters that were stationed there, as well as the vessel CGC Simcoe, which was an ideal size for coping with spills, Runciman said. He is also concerned that a change in the command structure for the Coast Guard has split decision-making between two different government departments and several regional offices.

"The Coast Guard now has multiple reporting lines, a lack of connection between decision-makers in regional offices and the front-line workers, and a serious lack of resources where they are needed most," he said.

The proliferation of shoals and the narrowness of the shipping channel make the Thousand Islands region especially vulnerable to a mishap, Runciman said.

In the last nine years, there have been more than 40 shipping incidents - spills, groundings or mechanical failure - along the river between Montreal and Lake Ontario, according to data compiled by the environmental group Save the River.

"Crude oil doesn't travel the Seaway, but other hazardous substances do, including other petroleum products," Runciman said. "In addition, the freighters that use the Seaway carry hundreds of thousands of litres of diesel in their tanks."

"The environmental and economic implications of a major spill in this region cannot be overstated," Runciman told fellow senators. "It's time for the government to address this very real concern."

Joanne Crack photo

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