UPDATE #2: Tanker spill disaster in Slocan Valley

Lightning Strikes Twice

It’s incredible that lightning should strike twice for some people, but it does. The woman I talked to today in Lemon Creek moved here because she’d already experienced an oil spill near her Alberta home. I met Cheryl (not her real name) as she was filling up plastic buckets at the water station on Kennedy Road, in the rural community of Lemon Creek. Here the alluvial fan has a drier, sandier soil than is typical of West Kootenay glacial deltas. It’s one of Nature’s best, most massive filtration systems. But the people who live here are still reminded daily by the taint of fuel in the air that their homes have been compromised.

One of the containment booms on Lemon Creek. The odour of jet fuel is still quite distinct here. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

One of the containment booms on Lemon Creek. The odour of jet fuel is still quite distinct here. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

As I walked along the creek this afternoon I could smell fuel quite distinctly all the way down to the banks of the Slocan River. The rail trail and the thickets along the stream bank are eerily quiet. Not even a chickadee. At the confluence of Lemon Creek and Slocan River the water meets a granite wall before spreading downriver into a lazy pool emptying southward. An American dipper threaded its wave skipping flight above the river—a grace note, rising above the desecration. Hope—literally on the wing.

For Cheryl, who has to keep two horses alive in addition to herself and her husband, getting water since the July 26 spill has been a nightmare. When they were first told there was water, there was none. Then someone dropped off a small pallet of single serving water bottles. That disappeared quickly. Water stations didn’t show up until several days after the spill. Due to two incidences of idiotic vandalism at Crescent Valley, the emergency response team has had to post a security guard at each water station. (Thank you.)

Another containment boom in a back eddy of Lemon Creek. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Another containment boom in a back eddy of Lemon Creek. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

People are feeling suspicious when they’re told no one is to test water samples but Interior Health or SNC Lavalin. This giant corporation has stated its ambition to become as large grossing and global a company as Coca Cola. Last year one of its chief executives, Pierre Duhaime, was embroiled in a scandal that cost him his job. According to the Financial Post, it turns out money may have been funneled from the company to Libyan dictator Moammar Ghadafi. But hey, who are we to judge? We aren’t the ones investigating the case. Besides, for all we know SNC Lavalin will do its level best to be a good corporate citizen in the Slocan Valley. I’ve already said I admire the responsibility Executive Flight Centre is showing. But residents talking to me justifiably want independent testing of their water. They don’t want it handled in a secretive manner.

That’s where there’s good news to report! According to an August 5 update from EFC, “Katherine Enns, RPBio, M.Sc. has been asked to assist the Slocan River Streamkeepers Association with the interpretation of the environmental data and communication with the public. Kat is an independent ecotoxicologist based in Castlegar. A meeting will be scheduled in the immediate future.”

Where the Lemon meets the Slocan: fast-moving water is an ally in this situation. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Where the Lemon meets the Slocan: fast-moving water is an ally in this situation. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

But once again, it comes back to people. Cheryl and her husband run a small campground and are wondering now what will become of their means of earning a living. They’ve already lost one tenant. And many residents are worried about their health. Cheryl estimates about a dozen people headed to hospital from Lemon Creek in the days following the spill. Many probably just needed to be reassured. But some are getting blood tests just to make sure. And they’re still anxiously awaiting test results for their well water. Some locals use the creek for irrigation or for animals. They’re wondering when their water will be safe.

Cheryl wonders what will happen with the next spring runoff. Will it blast loose more of the toxic jet fuel? Will that be enough to give Lemon Creek a clean bill of health? Will that ever be possible now? At this point no one seems to know, so the rumour mill is in overdrive. It’s understandable—emotions are running high. But now is the time to pull together.

For me the fuel spill has been a running assignment. There’s no substitute for boots on the ground. That on top of helping Jan out of a tight spot at the Valley Voice this issue. Like I said in Grace Notes, the wicked backhand of entropy at work in peoples’ lives this year! I suppose all of this should humble us, make us realize the power of forces beyond our control, whether that’s Nature or blind bad luck. But most of all, let’s hope it reminds us how precious our bond is with the Earth.

Slocan River looking south from the confluence: worth protecting. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Slocan River looking south from the confluence: worth protecting. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

NEWSFLASH: Remediation companies hiring

To apply for a job with the companies working on the cleanup, report to the Sandman Hotel in Castlegar on August 7 from 9 am – 5 pm. To speed up the application process, email your résumé to resumesbc@qmlp.ca.

Coordinator Seeking Volunteers

Volunteer Coordinator John Wittmayer is coordinating the work of 8 volunteers assisting in various ways. If you are interested in volunteering, contact John at the Resiliency Center, e-mail him at Slocan.Valley.Volunteers@gmail.com, or phone 250-226-7435. Please leave your name and contact information.

Resiliency Centre Open to Residents

The Resiliency Centre at Winlaw Elementary School is now open to residents of the Slocan Valley. The Resiliency Centre provides a ‘one stop shop’ for accessing water, showers, lavatories and disaster relief personnel.

For more information on the remediation efforts contact EFC at info@lemoncreekresponse.ca, visit www.lemoncreekresponse.ca, or phone toll free 1-855-399-1694 (staffed 8:00am-4:00pm PDT). Ask them for information update #5.

SOURCES: Executive Flight Centre information update #5, August 5, 2013

Financial Post: http://business.financialpost.com/2012/11/02/snc-lavalin-plans-stronger-overseas-presence-in-wake-of-ethics-scandal/

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About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
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