In 1893 a salmon cannery was established at what became known as Namu, B.C. Located mid coast along shores of the “inner passage”, Namu over-ran a settlement of the Heiltsuk first nations people, (a village inhabited for 10,000 years, certain fodder for another ponder) In those days, if not lumber or mining – salmon was king. Hundreds of canneries exploited seemingly endless salmon stocks. Company towns, populated by scores of aboriginal, Chinese and Japanese immigrants built fortunes for shrewd fishing companies. Deplorable conditions and wages translated to big bucks – health, safety, environment – of little concern.
Dwindling salmon stocks, exorbitant operating costs and centralized processing led to closure in 1969. B.C. Packers sold the site, walking away with nary a backwards glance – operational one day, padlocked the next. Nothing taken away – “as is” meant lock, stock and barrel. Buildings, docks, equipment – along with asbestos, arsenic, lead and copper contamination to name a few.
Abandoned for 45 years, untouched despite changing hands several times, Namu languishes under present owner David Milne of Namu Properties Ltd. Acquired over 10 years ago, Milne hoped to restore “heritage” buildings as a tourist destination. His plan never left the ground – backers and their money pulled out, leaving Milne a deteriorating situation.
A few years ago Milne sailed the ship Chilcotin Princess to Namu – it was supposed to facilitate clean-up. The ship, now considered “derelict” lists dangerously, pounding what little is left of a crumbling dock. Namu’s last resident, a caretaker, left in 2013. Milne, who scoffs at estimated millions to clean the site, has tried unsuccessfully to sell for years.
Last September Heiltsuk Aquatic Manager Mike Reid contacted Prince Rupert Coast Guard officials over concerns the listing Chilcotin Princess could rupture during winter storms. Canadian Coast Guard replied with assurance ship owners would tow it away by the end of October. October came and went. Further inquiries produced November 26 as the day it would be towed away for salvage. By late December the Coast Guard was changing tunes – no explanation regarding supposed deadlines, instead this statement..
“There have been no reports of fuel/oil pollution from the vessel Chilcotin Princess. Given that the owner of the vessel is engaged and working with CCG, the vessel is not considered to be abandoned or derelict.”
On December 29, email from a Ministry of Environment spokesman stated the site owner had a new deadline of the end of 2014 calendar year to “submit a written plan and schedule” detailing “immediate action” to ensure the site was safe. Gold star if you guessed that didn’t happen.
Flagrant environmental indifference by the British Columbia government doesn’t sit well. One hand spins warm fuzzy propaganda over glorious benefits from increased tanker traffic, while the other can’t manage a no brainer clean up of a toxic time bomb. Premier Christy Clark has some explaining to do.