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Expensive Clean-Up Won't Fix Reef Ship, Hazmat Group Says

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA -- (Marketwired) -- 05/21/14 -- Editors Note: There is a photo associated with this press release.

Taxpayers will be billed $865,000 to strip toxic materials from a 115-metre former warship so it can be sunk in Howe Sound, the federal government has said.

But even after the "clean-up", sinking the ship will cause "serious environmental damage," B.C.'s leading hazardous materials association said Tuesday.

"We adamantly oppose the whole process used to supposedly 'clean' the Annapolis," said Don Whyte, Executive Director of the Hazardous Materials Association.

"This scheme is nothing more than a thinly disguised effort by the federal government to avoid the costs associated with an environmentally responsible decommissioning of the vessel."

Whyte said it was alarming that provincial and federal government agencies have allowed the Artificial Reef Society of BC (ARSBC) to potentially expose hundreds of volunteers to toxic materials such as asbestos, lead, and PCBs during the thousands of hours spent attempting to decontaminate the ship.

The ex-Annapolis was tested for hazardous materials by the federal government in response to pressure from project opponents. The testing revealed parts of the ship contain the banned toxins known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at almost eight times the legal limit.

The Province of British Columbia in 2011 agreed to accept the ship as a "gift".

Last month, the federal government awarded the clean-up contract to Jenkins Marine Ltd., a ship-repair company with limited hazardous materials experience, according to its website. The work is being done while the ship is anchored near Gambier Island, north of Horseshoe Bay.

The vessel has been arrested by a marine contractor, who says he is owed $95,240 by the ARSBC, which has been trying for five years to advance the artificial reef project. Earlier this year the Underwater Council of BC passed a non-confidence motion calling for the ARSBC to give up control of the ship and open up its membership.

Community residents in Halkett Bay, the small cove on Gambier Island in which the ARSBC plans to sink the ship, have fought against the proposed sinking for more than five years.

Bill Andrews, a property owner who was visiting the bay Tuesday, said he saw men working to lower concrete mooring blocks close to the intended sink site.

"It took years to get the government to act responsibly and actually test this ship for pollution," said Gary MacDonald, who speaks for the Save Halkett Bay Campaign.

"Now that they've discovered PCBs, we want to know what happened to all the potentially hazardous material that was already removed from the ship."

He said it is a travesty that the federal government would spend almost a million dollars to bail out a non-profit group that consists of six members.

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