UPDATE #4: Fuel spill disaster spawns class action suit

The Shit Hits the Fan: Class Action Suit

Word has been received from lawyer David Aaron that he has been engaged by Slocan Valley resident Robert Kirk to press a class action suit for damages created by the jet fuel spill of July 26. The defendants named in the suit are the Province of BC and Executive Flight Centre (EFC). The suit will represent persons who own property within the defined ‘Evacuation Zone’—an area of three kilometres on either side of Lemon Creek and the Slocan River; from the junction of highways 3A and 6 at South Slocan to three kilometres north of Lemon Creek.

The tanker that spilled 33,000 litres of A-1 jet fuel into Lemon Creek July 26. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

The EFC tanker that spilled 33,000 litres of A-1 jet fuel into Lemon Creek July 26. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Kirk lives on his 51-acre property on the east riparian bank of the Slocan River, approximately 6 kilometres south of Lemon Creek. Some 45 acres of his land consists of wetlands within the flood plain of the Slocan River. Kirk’s home is only 15 metres from the river. At 5:00 am on July 27, he awoke with a headache and sore throat to the sound of his horse coughing. He found an evacuation notice had been posted on his door. A pool of fuel had accumulated in a Slocan River back eddy just south of his barn.

“They set up an ad hoc fuel depot in an environmentally sensitive area without taking due care,” says Kirk. “They could have easily avoided the spill had they taken any one of various safety measures: a sign, map, a VHF radio or a flag person by the side of the road.”

Sadly, Slocan Valley residents are not unused to negligence on the part of corporations pursuing their interests in this ecosystem. Years ago Perry Ridge area resident Austin Greengrass lost his home to a slide created as a result of logging in the area.

“You take a fuel tanker up Lemon Creek Forest Service Road and you get an environmental disaster,” says Greengrass. “Considering that the Lemon Creek Forest Service Road is narrow and unstable and is only a few hundred meters from their fuel depot, they should have clearly marked it off. You could find better signage at the entrance to Shambhala.”

The signage clearly marks Lemon Creek Road as an inactive road. Photo courtesy Ministry FLNRO

The signage clearly marks Lemon Creek Road as an inactive road. Photo courtesy Ministry FLNRO

In fact, photos supplied by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI), which is responsible for the road, show that the driver had to pass at least two signs noting that the road is no longer an active, maintained road. According to Greengrass, this is the largest spill of its kind in Canadian history. As I’ve been telling people since the day the spill happened, the environmental and social fallout from this event will be ongoing for years. It’s questionable whether it will ever be fully resolved.

In an environmental sense, the immediate impact has been huge. In my earlier blog post I noted how, walking the length of Lemon Creek from Highway 6 to the Slocan River, the woods were eerily quiet. It violates all that’s held sacred by residents of the Slocan Valley—a pristine environment teeming with fish and wildlife. Marilyn Burgoon, President of the Perry Ridge Water Users Association, echoes my sense of the unquiet silence that now lies like a wet blanket over the river valley.

“We are grieving,” says Burgoon. “Where there had once been morning bird songs, now there is an eerie silence.”

A healing ceremony was held for Slocan River July 30 but it will take more than that to get our clean river back. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

A healing ceremony was held for Slocan River July 30 but it will take more than that to get our clean river back. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Since the Spill, Kirk has observed the complete absence of wildlife from his property, except for a duck and blue heron that have turned up dead. Fuel is adhering to grass on the riparian bank of his property, rendering it a lethal habitat for wildlife.

“The Slocan River is a dead zone,” adds Kirk. “The wildlife are gone. Ducks, herons and deer have been pulled out dead from the river. The shorelines and wetlands that were once nesting grounds are now scattered with fish carcasses.”

The class action suit also calls upon a judge to compel EFC and the Province of BC to “meaningfully consult with the Plaintiff’s independent environmental scientist with respect to ecological monitoring and remediation.” This would certainly help allay the fears of valley residents that only a superficial cleanup will be done.

“The plaintiff is uncomfortable with the fact that cleanup is in the hands of the parties that were allegedly irresponsible enough to let this happen,” says Aaron.

As I mentioned in my Update #3 (August 11), the impact on peoples’ lives in the valley will be just as great. Volunteer Coordinator John Wittmayer remarked on the irony that remediation contractor Quantum Murray had asked for the assistance of a local fishing guide to help them locate eddies where fuel could collect. This guide is now wondering if he’ll be able to make a living here anymore. Certainly the balance of the tourism season for this year will be a write-off, especially for kayak companies operating on the river. A similar economic ripple effect was felt in Kaslo last year in the wake of the Johnson’s Landing slide.

“The watershed here is everything to people,” says Wittmayer. “It’s not politically astute to ignore them—there are hippies here with phDs and they’re not just going to go away.”

Greengrass calls the jet fuel spill “a preventable tragedy of huge proportions.” The list of symptoms experienced by residents include burning eyes, blisters, sore throats, headaches, respiratory distress, and neuromuscular symptoms.

“People have been displaced from their homes, their farms contaminated, their businesses shut down indefinitely.”

Photos at the Facebook page Slocan Class Action taken August 9 show that despite the lifting of the ‘Do Not Use’ water order by IHA, there is still plenty of evidence of fuel in the watershed.

Persons wishing to support or participate in the action may email slocanclassaction@gmail.com or join www.facebook.com/groups/slocanclassaction/

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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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5 Responses to UPDATE #4: Fuel spill disaster spawns class action suit

  1. Anne Champagne says:

    Another excellent post.

    A.

  2. Carla says:

    Thanks for these updates, Art. You are doing a great job covering this horrible disaster. This is an epic tragedy in every way possible.

  3. Lorna Visser says:

    Sadly, it is important to sue the culprits and sue them hard. Economic loss is the ONLY language they understand. It is the only way to get the attention of the business community with the message that toxic hydrocarbons have to be transported and handled with much more care. The fact the tanker truck driver passed two “Road Closed” signs before collapsing the creek-bank and falling into the creek is pretty clear evidence of negligence in my opinion. – Lorna Visser

  4. Dr. Mark Plotnikoff says:

    Thanks for these updates!!

  5. Keith Newberry says:

    The valley is indeed fortunate to have such a skilled and dedicated reporter amongst us. Thank you Art. One thing puzzles me. When the spill first happened it was said in the newspapers that it was fortunate it was plane fuel, not oil, and the impression was that it would not linger long. Now I read that the devastation will last many years, making peoples’ places hard to sell. ?
    Thanks again
    Keith

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