Twenty-six turn out for Old Massett ocean fertilization meeting

  • Oct. 4, 2013 8:00 p.m.

About 26 Old Massett residents attended a band members-only meeting last Thursday (Sept. 26) to hear the latest news about the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, the group behind last summer’s deep sea iron fertilization experiment. Gloria Tauber, a longtime critic of the HSRC and the iron experiment, wasn’t able to attend the entire meeting but said she didn’t hear much of anything new. Questions from Old Massett citizens were answered by Old Massett economic development officer and HSRC president John Disney and operations officer Jason McNamee, she said. Mr. McNamee’s presence was notable, she said, as it was the first time she knows of that he had spoken directly to the people of Old Massett, although he has been involved in the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation since 2010. Mr. McNamee lives in Victoria. Ms Tauber said those who attended the meeting were provided with a 34-page package but were told that they could not take it out of the community hall. There was too much information to read while the meeting was going on, she said. Five of the pages contained answers to questions people had posed at a previous band meeting in May. There was also a financial statement, but Ms Tauber said it did not fully explain where the HSRC has spent its money, and how much money the organization plans to spend in the future. Most of the money was spent on a experiment carried out in the summer of 2012 in the north Pacific ocean. The Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. hired scientists, a boat and a crew and spent several weeks sprinkling 100 tons of pulverized iron in international waters. The idea behind the experiment is that the iron stimulates plankton growth, which in turn nourishes life forms all the way up the food chain. Ms Tauber said the financial statements showed that the HSRC paid Russ George and his associates $15,000 a month for about 15 months, a total of $225,000, until he was fired from the corporation last May. Mr. George is a businessman who has tried other iron fertilization and carbon credit schemes around the world. In total, it appears that the HSRC has spent $2.7 million so far, she said. Mr. Disney told the Observer last year that the money came from Old Massett’s own funds, with the expectation that the village would eventually make money through the sale of carbon credits based on the iron fertilization. Ms Tauber said people at the meeting heard that the HSRC is still spending some money, for example for rent for its office in Vancouver. “People had asked, are there any funds available to the project at the present time, they just said ‘yes’,” Ms Tauber said. Ms Tauber said she feels very upset about the amount of money that has been spent and doesn’t believe that Old Massett will be able to recover it. She’s also not happy about the secrecy that continues to surround the project. “There should never have been any secrecy. All the cards should have been laid on the table,” she said. “People have a right to know what is going on, what’s going on out there in the water.” Old Massett has held a few meetings about the HSRC that have been open only to band members, and also held a meeting in Skidegate earlier this year that was open only to Skidegate band members. HSRC and Old Massett have never held a public meeting about the project. April White, who also attended the meeting, said she has had a lot of questions about the project right from the beginning and appreciated the opportunity to hear more from the people behind HSRC. It’s important that Old Massett band members have the opportunity to learn more about what’s going on, she said. Ms White said she had an extensive conversation with Mr. McNamee after the meeting and is hoping to keep the channels of communication open. For that reason, she didn’t want to say too much about what went on at the closed meeting. An artist and geologist with years of business experience, Ms White said her main question is what the goal of the iron experiment was. Was it to bring back the salmon, or was it to bring in money through the sale of carbon credits? Mr. Disney and Mr. McNamee told her that their goal was both, and that they are still hoping to sell carbon credits or derive some revenue from the experiment, she said. Ms White said they sounded very confident, but after talking to many scientists and other experts over the past couple of years, she has some doubts. Ms White said she will continue to ask questions about the project and will likely to go directly to the village council with her queries. Lately, she said, she has been pleased with the amount of information that she has received about the project. However, she found it disrespectful that the HSRC presented a paper about the experiment at an oceans conference in San Diego last month. The information should have been presented to Old Massett residents first, she said, as they are the ones who funded the project. “I was annoyed we had to find out about that through Twitter,” she said. “I believe the community should have been the first.” The $2.7 million that’s been spent so far is a significant amount for the community, Ms White said, and she continues to have questions around that. She also has questions about the science behind the iron fertilization experiment. She said she has spoken to scientists who say that putting pulverized iron in the ocean is not going to help salmon populations, although she’s aware there are many different opinions out there. Old Massett resident Daphne White told the Observer she thought the meeting went well, but didn’t want to talk about it as the meeting was for Old Massett band members only. “They answered people’s questions really well, they did their best,” she said. The Observer left a message for Old Massett chief councillor Ken Rea but did not hear back from him before our deadline.

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