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Coast Guard base closure puts public at risk, council says

The closure of a Canadian Coast Guard station in Vancouver will tax the resources of Sea Island's search-and-rescue base, says a Richmond councillor.

"It's going to be a drain on resources," said Coun. Derek Dang. "This is going to take away from our own safety because we'll now have a wider range to cover."

Richmond council recently voiced its displeasure with the federal government's decision to close the Kitsilano base through letters targeting Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield and local MPs.

The pending Kitsilano closure is among a number of Fisheries and Oceans Canada cuts across the country. The base is being amalgamated with the Sea Island Coast Guard station, located 17 nautical miles away and served by a single hovercraft.

Dang, chair of council's community safety committee, said the federal government isn't being judicious with its funds.

"We're a coastal community, and the B.C. coastline is vast. The whole premise of having any first responders is response time. If you're increasing response time, you're increasing the risk of anybody who's doing any type of boating, whether it's commercial, casual or recreational," he said.

"Why are we not, as a coastal community, as an island community, getting the support from the federal government that we feel we should?"

Richmond council's July 23 resolution said the closure is bound to have a negative impact on the boating public and the services of the Sea Island station.

The closure has drawn fire from numerous high-ranking B.C. politicians, including Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Premier Christy Clark and NDP Opposition leader Adrian Dix.

The union representing workers at the Kitsilano station insists the closure will lead to longer response times. Christine Collins, national president of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, said that can mean "the difference between life and death."

According to the union, 763 Canadian Coast Guard workers received notices in May from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, telling them that they could soon lose their jobs. The cuts are part of the government's plan to trim the department's budget by $79.3 million over three years, the union says.

Federal officials maintain levels of service won't change, while search-and-rescue capacity will get a boost in 2013 with the addition of a new hovercraft.

A ministry spokesperson directed The Review to a ministry website, which says officials are confident amalgamated rescue operations at the Sea Island base "can effectively manage the caseload of the Kitsilano lifeboat station and that service levels will be maintained."

Last year the Kitsilano station responded to 271 calls.

In a June 26 speech posted on the ministry website, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield said "many partners" will work together to maintain service levels.

"While we will be closing the Kitsilano station, we will be adding a new inshore rescue boat in the busy summer season and strengthening our partnership with the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue," he said. "I am confident that the existing network of resources in Vancouver will be able to more than adequately handle the nature and volume of calls specific to the area."

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