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Editorial: To whom does a berg belong?

H2O's trip from berg to glass is a now a more expensive journey.
H2O's trip from berg to glass is a now a more expensive journey.

In some ways, it makes sense. In other ways, it’s pure comedy. In 2016, the provincial government put a water-use tax on the harvest of icebergs (starting with a minimum of $5,000) and doubled the price of the five-year permit needed to harvest icebergs, from $2,000 to $4,000.

The government is now reviewing those fees, after businesses — including wineries and vodka makers — argued they were damaging their enterprises.

Stop and think about icebergs as a natural resource, and the provincial government’s position that it has legislative authority over them. The province can make the case that it has constitutional authority over groundwater, but does it own icebergs?

Icebergs don’t start here. Most come from Greenland and travel south on the Labrador Current. And they don’t end on provincial soil, either, unless you count the bergy bits that get washed up on the beach. They don’t land, although they sometimes ground and stay in the same place for a while.

So, are they even the provincial government’s to control?

The regulations for the iceberg water fees flow from the Water Resources Act, which doesn’t mention icebergs even once in 19,500 words.

The legislation’s definition of “body of water,” is “a surface or subterranean source of fresh or salt water within the jurisdiction of the province, whether that source usually contains liquid or frozen water or not, and includes water above the bed of the sea that is within the jurisdiction of the province, a river, stream, brook, creek, watercourse, lake, pond, spring, lagoon, ravine, gully, canal, wetland and other flowing or standing water and the land occupied by that body of water.”

Clearly, it’s mostly about groundwater and surface water, frozen and thawed.

And the ownership of icebergs? Well, like icebergs themselves, nine-tenths of that issue is out of sight.

There are a variety of theories about who owns an iceberg. Some suggest ownership rests with the country whose glaciers the icebergs calve from. Other suggest that, in the open ocean, icebergs belong to whoever wants them and gets there first. They are stateless.

Still further law suggests that, once an iceberg is within a state’s 200-mile economic zone, the sovereign state owns them.

So, would iceberg harvesters need permission from Newfoundland and Labrador, or from Canada? And who could charge the fees?

Believe it or not, a significant murder case on an iceberg — Ice Island T3 — where an employee shot a manager in a dispute over brewing raisin wine in 1970, involved legal backflips about just whose jurisdiction the crime took place in, and whose law should apply to the case.

The general consensus is that ownership of icebergs isn’t clearly set — but should be.

But if we do own icebergs, do we also own their liability if someone plows into them?

So many questions…

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