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Search-and-rescue crews learn how to fight spill during training exercise near Sidney

Training exercise continues Thursday and Friday

First the important news. Nothing spilled off Glass Beach in downtown Sidney Thursday morning.

The 500-foot long boom strung to the east of the Sidney Pier stretching north to south is part and parcel of tactical training involving a Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) vessel based out of Sidney’s Van Isle Marina, along with a Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCMSAR) Station 36 (Saanich unit) vessel.

Michael Lowry, WCMRC’s senior manager of communication, said RCMSAR crews were learning how to deploy the boom as part of a program called Coastal Response Plan that sees WCMRC partner with local organizations.

“Let’s say, we had a spill out in the shipping lanes,” he said. “Our vessels (based out of WCMRC’s new station in Sidney) would be going out to do containment and start cleanup and we could task RCMSAR and other vessels in the area that we have trained to employ these shoreline protection strategies.”

Lowry said WCMRC wanted to partner with RCMSAR for a while. “They are a natural partner,” he said. “They normally do search-and-rescue, but they are trained in ICS (Incident Command System) used to manage spills and they are available to respond 24/7.”

WCMRC has already worked with Malahat First Nation and Pauquachin First Nation as well under the Coastal Response Plan. “So RCMSAR Station 36 is the latest addition,” he said.

RELATED: Oil spill response base taking shape on Saanich Peninsula

Patrick Fogarty, vice-president of the Saanich Marine Rescue Society, said Thursday’s training exercise was a long time coming with COVID-19 having delayed it. “It went really well,” he said. “And we are quite happy with the progress.”

Fogarty said RCMSAR decided to partner up with WCMRC because its mandate of keeping boaters safe compatible with keeping the environment safe, adding value to its volunteer services.

“We just want to help, contribute any way we can,” he said.

A total of 20 volunteers will undergo the training, he said. Thursday’s training is not designed for a specific scenario, said Lowry. “Today, we are just doing tactical training,” he said. “It’s the tactics of how to tie up the boom, how the boom is going to work, how to tow the boom. This will be the first time for RCMSAR to use a boom like this in this sort of way.”

The boom used is what Lowry calls a general purpose boom. “It has its own float and it has a curtain that hangs down,” he said. “So it’s good for these sheltered (bays) like this one. For open ocean spills, we have bigger booms that self-inflate.”

The exercise lasts through Thursday morning until noon, then resumes at 1 p.m. running through 4 p.m. before stopping for the day. It then resumes Friday morning, following the same schedule as Thursday.

“Because RCMSAR has so many volunteers, we are going to train them in shifts,” said Lowry.

While training exercises of this sort happen all the time, WCMRC chose to train off the shores of downtown Sidney because of the proximity to the RCMSAR station. “Because we have to train so many of their crew, this was the perfect location.”

Lowry said WCMRC considered other locations, including one of the Gulf Islands, but settled on Glass Beach because of the logistics.

WCMRC’s coastal response program launched in 2017 includes a map identifying areas that are especially sensitive to oil spills for environmental, cultural and economic reasons. When asked about the specific sensitivity of the training area, Lowry said the entire coast is sensitive.

“When we look at the coastline, we bring in existing data sets that come from the provincial (government), from Islands Trust. So we bring that information into our digital mapping platform and that helps up identify where the sensitivities are,” he said.

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