Coast Guard vessels on display during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Region opposes Kitsilano coast guard closure

Federal cuts risk public safety, Metro Vancouver reps say

Citing a serious threat to public safety, Metro Vancouver has added its voice to demands the federal government cancel the closure of the Kitsilano coast guard station in Vancouver.

“We want that coast guard station to remain,” Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said after the issue went to a vote of the Metro board Sept. 21.

“There’s something very wrong with this decision,” said Coquitlam Coun. Mae Reid, noting more oil tankers may ply the coast if new or expanded oil pipelines proceed.

A City of Vancouver analysis to Metro concluded Ottawa’s plan to consolidate coast guard operations at Sea Island in Richmond next spring mean a 40 per cent reduction in staff and a drop from six vessels to four.

Sea Island-based responders – at least 30 minutes away from Vancouver harbour – would handle more than twice as many calls, including up to 100 life-at-risk calls each year previously handled by Kitsilano.

“People’s safety will be at risk because of this closure,” City of Vancouver deputy manager Sadhu Johnston told Metro directors.

“We are very concerned about the potential increase in time and even the availability of those resources.”

A federal plan to supplement volunteer rescue coverage with Vancouver-based post-secondary students in the summer months won’t help with the two-thirds of the calls that come in the winter months, he said.

Because any other agency with boats on the water must respond in an emergency, Johnston said cities may find rescue responsibility downloaded to their police or fire boats or other marine-equipped staff.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson also criticized a federal decision to remotely monitor Vancouver-area marine traffic from Victoria via video camera, rather than at a staffed command tower in the harbour.

He said the closure of a federal oil spill command centre in the region will also eliminate about 50 jobs, while joint emergency preparedness funding is also being reduced.

“There’s been a comprehensive set of cuts that undermines our emergency preparedness.”

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has said planned upgrades and one new boat will ensure sufficient search-and-rescue coverage.

But Vancouver politicians have accused federal Conservatives of refusing to discuss the issue or reconsider the government’s decision.

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