Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Twillingate's tears

I'm filling in for Bill Rowe as host of VOCM's afternoon radio call-in show, Backtalk, for the month of July, followed by a week standing in for Randy Simms as host of Open Line. Each day I'll post the show's monologue, which I prepare in advance.


Good afternoon Newfoundland and Labrador and all the ships at sea.

The last few days have seen heart-breaking tragedy and near tragedy here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

There was an unimaginable tragedy in Twillingate over the weekend with the loss of four people — two men and two little boys, two little brothers — in a boating mishap on the Atlantic.

I have two boys myself, and if you’re a parent you can only imagine the pain the families of those who were lost are going through.

I start with the near tragedy, and what can be done to help the living.

On Friday past (July 16th), shortly after midnight, a fire was reported at a three-storey home in Buckmaster’s Circle in St. John’s.

Two adult women (ages 34 and 31) and two children (ages 12 and 13) jumped from the third-floor window to save themselves.

The drop was 30 feet, a long way down.

All four were seriously injured, and lucky to survive.

According to the Weekend Telegram, it was the screams for help from the window of the three-storey home that drew neighbours.

Those neighbours put a mattress on the ground to break their fall.

I’m not sure there’s much a mattress can do when you’re falling from 30 feet, but better that than nothing.

The first call to 911 went in at 12:05 a.m. Firefighters arrived on the scene 1 minute and 27 seconds after receiving the call, but that’s not the issue.

The issue is a fire escape.

The social housing units in Buckmaster’s Circle don’t have them. They don’t have fire ladders either — even though the housing units are three-stories high and 30 feet is a long way down.

According to the paper, fire escapes are not required under current city fire regulations.

I hear that some residents of Buckmaster’s Cirle are considering circulating a petition to get ladders or fire escapes for the homes.

Here’s a quote from one of the witnesses to the Thursday night fire:

“They had time to get out. That was the saddest part. They didn't want to jump. If they had a ladder they would have been down."

If you live in Buckmaster’s Circle, or a Housing Unit anywhere in Newfoundland and Labrador, and you have a concern about fire escapes, or lack thereof, you know where to call.

Maybe someone from the City of St. John’s would call in and tell us what the deal is with fire escapes.

They aren’t required?

Even on a three-storey building?


Moving on to the Twillingate tragedy.

In a small place like Twillingate, in a small place like Newfoundland and Labrador, when there’s a tragedy it’s felt in every nook and cranny.

I’ve covered my share of tragedies, and I know it’s good to talk.

It’s a part of the healing process.

The search continues today in the waters off Twillingate for a man in his 40s.

The bodies of three other people — including a middle-aged man, and two boys — brothers, ages 10 and 13 — have been recovered.

They were all wearing personal floatation devises.

The five-metre boat went out Saturday afternoon with all four aboard.

It was reported overdue close to midnight.

They boys weren’t related to the men on the boat. They were family friends.

The man who’s still missing was reportedly living in Yellowknife; he was home visiting his mother.

VOCM news reports that the boys who were lost were on the town wharf almost every day.

They were raised by the sea, and died by the sea.

The tragedy took place on the eve of Twillingate’s Fish, Fun, and Folk Festival.

The fireworks planned for this evening will be replaced by a candle-light vigil.


Let’s stick with rural Newfoundland and Labrador a while longer — the outports.

I heard Randy Simms mention the overpass on Open Line this morning

The overpass being the symbol of rural/urban divide here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Or should I say the symbol of Townie/Bayman divide.

According to the paper, over the next two summers the legendary overpass will come down and be replaced with a much bigger overpass.

Randy questioned whether the overpass pictured in the paper is the actual overpass at the intersection of Topsail Road and Kenmount Road.

It is.

I’m betting the overpass will live on — the expression anyway — long after it’s replaced.

Because there is a divide between the greater St. John’s metro region, and the rest Newfoundland and Labrador.

That’s just a fact.

But, as the saying goes, Newfoundland and Labrador cannot live on St. John’s alone.

Or can it?


And there was another story in the news over the weekend about an overpass, although not the overpass.

This particular overpass is off Pitts Memorial Drive at the intersection to Pearltown Road.

Two teenagers were arrested early Sunday morning for throwing rocks from the overpass onto cars below.

If that wasn’t stupid enough — and I’m not a fan of the word stupid (but there’s no other adjective for what the young punks were up to) — one of the two cars that was damaged, that had its windshield smashed , was a police cruiser.

Both teenagers were charged with mischief, although I didn’t see a stupidity charge.

I know what it’s like for my vehicle to get hit by a snowball in winter, a snowball thrown by a crowd of young fellas.

I almost went off the road.

But a rock?


I hear from VOCM News that Kent Building Supplies and Tim Hortons have committed to moving into Spaniard’s Bay.

Bay Roberts Mayor Glenn Littlejohn says the business will be great for the entire region.

I’m sure it will be.

Spaniard’s Bay (one of my old stompin’ grounds) is right between Bay Roberts and Harbour Grace/Carbonear, so it could do well.

At the same time, the Town council in Clarenville has rejected an application by Kent’s to move into town.

Kent’s had requested permission to buy four acres next to Wal-Mart to build a new store.

But the application was rejected because the developer wanted to make a dead-end of the street.

The developer also asked the town to sign a no-competition clause in the sales agreement.

So a Kent’s for Spaniard’s Bay, and no Kent’s for Clarenville.

Development is wonderful, but apparently not development at any cost.


Moving on to catch and release.

No, I’m talking about the fishery just yet.

I’ll get there in a minute.

There was an interesting letter to the editor in the weekend paper, headlined “Catch and release.”

It was a reference to a reported drunk driver who was pulled over recently by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

One of the charges laid against the man was driving while disqualified — the man was then released on bond.

The letter writer says she strongly believes that a person who has already disregarded driving restrictions deserves stricter conditions on his/her freedom.

Makes sense to me.

Make sense to you?


Now I move onto the fishery, and another letter in the weekend paper.

This one from Captain Wilfred Bartlett of Brighton, who questions whether crab is the next species to fall.

And our stocks have been falling like dominos.

Eighteen years since the cod moratorium, and fishermen are taking up their crab pots — not because they have their quota, but because there is no crab to catch.

Then once the crab fishery is over, hundreds of fishermen move onto shrimp, dragging the same crab grounds.

Which were closed because of too many young, soft-shelled crab were being caught.

DFO shuts down an area for soft-shelled crab and the next day fishermen are allowed to return to same area and drag over the bottom for shrimp.

Maybe a fisherman can call in and explain how that makes sense.


The editorial section in the weekend paper is my favourite, especially the letters to the editor.

Natural Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale had a letter in this weekend.

She was slammed last week by the Opposition and media for releasing a benefits agreement for the lower Churchill project.

When the project is apparently nowhere near getting off the ground.

“Minister expected applause,” read the headline.

I bet she did.

In her letter, Minister Dunderdale stated the benefits agreement was reached so that bidders can understand the province’s benefits expectations when they prepare their bids.

I see sense in that.

The original government news release was headlined: “Benefits strategy for Lower Churchill construction projects ensures opportunities for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador."

The Telegram editorial last week said it should probably be headlined, "Blowing our own horn on a slow day at the office."

What do you think?


One last letter from the weekend paper I want to mention, this idea comes from Tom Careen of Placentia.

Whom I’ve known a few years, and he’s a good head, a smart head.

Tom says it seems naïve to call ourselves an energy warehouse.

When we should be calling ourselves an energy powerhouse.

Big difference.

He argues instead of developing the lower Churchill and shipping power out — we should develop the lower Churchill and keep the power here.

In Newfoundland and Labrador.

To power future industry.

I remember Sue Kelland-Dyer — the Queen of talk radio herself — singing a few years ago from the same hymnbook.

Why don’t we keep the power here once its developed?

How else will we get ahead in terms of jobs?

Keep in mind our unemployment rate here is still the highest in Canada.

Being a have-province hasn’t taken much of a dent out of the unemployment lines.


Onto our biggest money-maker (what’s keeping us fed and clothed these last few years), offshore oil.

I mentioned on Friday the following timeline — 85 days, 16 hours and 25 minutes.

That’s how long it took British Petroleum to shut down its Gulf of Mexico oil leak.

A leak of up to 60,000 barrels of oil a day that began on April 20th after an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers, and triggered the spill.

Finally, last Thursday, BP managed to secure a 75-tonne cap on the wellhead.

Now there’s news that oil may be seeping from the ocean floor.

I have to keep mentioning the Gulf of Mexico leak because of the ongoing drilling on the Orphan Basin off Newfoundland.

Where Chevron is drilling the deepest undersea well in Canadian history?

One kilometer deeper than the Gulf of Mexico well.

If something happens on the Orphan Basin, it would be harder and trickier to fix.

The Gulf of Mexico is an environmental nightmare.

Let’s hope we don’t have the same one here.


Finally, for now, there was a story in the national news over the weekend about how researchers are getting a first-ever glimpse of the watery depths off our shores.

Seeing species that are likely new to science and collecting data that could unlock centuries-old mysteries of the sea.

The team from three Canadian universities and a Spanish institute is looking at life three kilometres below the surface using a submersible robot, and have found sponges and other species clinging to steep cliffs never seen before.

Tulip-shaped sponges, delicate pink stars and feathery organisms.

Apparently it’s a whole other world.

Fingers crossed the drilling on the Orphan Basin goes off without a hitch.

Our world won’t be the only one affected.

The Backtalk lines are open.

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