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Funding to combat Zebra mussels and a cheer for LNG at B.C. Liberal convention

Christy Clark enters the B.C. Liberal convention Saturday before delivering a speech focused on the bright future natural resource exploration will lead to for the next generation. - Jennifer Smith
Christy Clark enters the B.C. Liberal convention Saturday before delivering a speech focused on the bright future natural resource exploration will lead to for the next generation.
— image credit: Jennifer Smith

Only a handful of people opposed a resolution to tackle the threat of Quagga and Zebra mussels when delegates at the B.C. Liberal convention put it to a vote Saturday afternoon.

A single female mussels can lay up to a million eggs annually, destroying the ecosystem where the larva are deposited. The mollusks release a nasty neurotoxin, which leaves a welt similar to a bee sting on those who walk the beach barefoot. And  it populates so quickly it's hard to not to step on one in an infested area.

From clogging water intakes in municipal water systems to costing boat owners thousands to strip them from hulls and propellers, the mussels leave a wake of destruction—even leading to downturns in waterfront real estate prices in the Great Lakes.

"…It changes the quality of life in places like the Okanagan," said Nelson Jatel, Okanagan Basin Water Board water stewardship director.

He told convention delegates the OBWB's estimates peg damages in the $20-30 million dollars range, annually, if the mussels make it into B.C. streams and lakes.

The threat is all too real this year after an infected boat nearly crossed the border in Osoyoos, stopped only by a vigilant border guard who took the time to contact conservation officers, though there is technically no law to permitting a search or seizure of boats with mussels.

"There's really two deficits right now. One is the federal government needs to reform one of their regulations to be able to stop Quagga and Zebra mussels at the border. You can't take an apple across and you can't take soil across, but you can take invasive mussels across," said Jatel. "And then provincially, the provincial government has an opportunity to really build on the resolution that was passed today and really develop some kind of a program to either sticker boats or at least ensure that people who are boating on our lakes don't have these mussels."

The resolution suggests boat owners pay for a sticker to put on their boat that would generate awareness and the funds needed to run inspection stations at the provincial and national borders.

Echoing programs already developed in other jurisdictions, the awareness campaign would include tickets and fines to recreational boaters who have not purchased a sticker and would dovetail with programs in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Washington and Idaho.

Victoria resident Janta Quigley said the problem threatens her area as well and told delegates she's looking for an education program that would pull in multiple stakeholders, leaning on sectors like the tourism to help spread the word. Mayor Walter Gray backed her words.

"I know that the government is very much on top of this…But what we have to do is send a message to the citizen's caucus so they don't slow down in what I believe is the good work they're already doing" said Gray, who gave an impassioned plea to delegates to vote for the resolution unanimously.

Mussels were the only environmental issue on the table Saturday at a convention focused heavily on the economy, particularly the economy in northeastern B.C. where liquid natural gas was said to be booming.

A resolution targeted at harmonizing the provincial and federal environmental approval processes passed unanimously.

"I think this issue is important to all of British Columbia because it's key to developing our natural resource potential," said the delegate presenting it on behalf of  two Prince George ridings.

Only resolutions on developing an affordable housing strategy and creating a mental health campus of care seemed to generate much debate in a session that flowed reasonably seamlessly from issue to issue with delegates passing the resolutions, all seemingly focused in the same direction.

The afternoon wrapped up with the arrival of Premier Christy Clark who hailed their 2013 election victory a vote for a brighter future for the children of this province.

Predictably, her speech focused heavily on finding that bright future in LNG exploration, the potential of selling B.C.'s resources to new Asian markets, and culminated in a rousing cheer for the delegates from the northeast.

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