Lemon Creek Monitoring Plan: the Politics of Self-Regulation

The Ministry of Environment has released the long-term monitoring plan for the Lemon Creek jet fuel spill. The plan was prepared by SNC Lavalin, the firm hired by Executive Flight Centre (EFC) as its lead environmental consultant. However, the documents were released on a Friday afternoon of the Thanksgiving long weekend—a favourite tactic of government public relations personnel, especially for items they think might be controversial.

Microbiologist Jennifer Yeow of Slocan Valley Streamkeepers.

Microbiologist Jennifer Yeow of Slocan Valley Streamkeepers.

This left me with limited time to study the documents prior to press time for the current issue of the Valley Voice. Inevitably that means some errors have crept into the story I filed for the newspaper. The plan was released in two main parts, the Biological Monitoring Plan and the Water and Sediment Plan, comprising some 72 pages. First impressions are good, assuming the follow-through matches the steps outlined.

I reported that Slocan Valley Streamkeepers has been included as a local stakeholder (true) and that “its data will be considered in the monitoring.” However, a phone interview with Jennifer Yeow revealed that in fact, Streamkeepers has yet to receive any confirmation that their data will be included or that they will be able to review data collected by SNC.

“I just don’t want people thinking Streamkeepers is working with SNC Lavalin; that has not happened. The ministry in the end cannot direct EFC or SNC to work with us; that’s where the weakness in our governmental system appears. They know it’s right but they’ve stepped back from that authority.  It’s important for people not to be deluded into thinking government is in control here.”

Fuel sheen like this continues to be seen as far south as Passmore. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Fuel sheen like this continues to be seen by residents as far south as Perry’s bridge. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Yeow has contacted Wayne Smook of Executive Flight Centre (EFC) asking that a “memorandum of understanding” be drawn up that outlines Streamkeepers’ sharing and access to data in the monitoring plan. So far no such memo has been drafted. Unfortunately, due to the class action lawsuit underway, explains Yeow, one of the caveats will be that Streamkeepers cannot give any information to any parties that are involved in the lawsuit.

“We’ve given them our views on what that document would contain but it’s up to them and their lawyers to write it,” says Yeow. “And then we have to review it and run it by a lawyer. That puts us in an awkward position regarding the community because we’d normally like to have everything open. On the other hand, it’s unlikely they’d give us anything if they thought we’d turn around and give it to lawyers who were developing a legal case against them.”

Peter Corbett of Mirkwood Ecological Consultants has been hired to do the fish studies but no word yet on who’s doing the benthic invertebrates portion of the monitoring plan. Yeow says Streamkeepers had Corbett do fish counts in the side channels and the wetlands areas after the spill. But this is merely a snapshot; for fisheries data to have any meaning it must be analyzed, something that has yet to happen. In the meantime, Streamkeepers will continue with their own monitoring program. Annual fish counts in the Slocan River watershed have been paid for by Columbia Power Corporation for about six years now and this too will continue.

Containment booms like these have now all been removed. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Containment booms like these have all been removed. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

“How do we proceed from here?” asks Yeow. “Because as this is occurring we’ve got the Columbia Basin Truast and Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program looking to work with communities in ways they haven’t in the past. In the beginning they were really cautious about funding monitoring programs, taking on projects that should be the rightful domain of the Provincial government. But now they’re starting to take that on, because the funding is no longer there for government services.”

Here’s where the politics of self-regulation and privatization start to get complicated. Professional biologists may well be people of integrity but if they’re under contract to a private company like SNC Lavalin, their data suddenly becomes ‘proprietary’ information. The company can choose to release this data—or not. Even Streamkeepers has to walk this fine line. For example, the benthic invertebrate data Streamkeepers has collected and filed with the CBT is freely available on the Environment Canada ‘CABIN’ website. But the degree of public access to the data varies depending on the contract signed. Some community monitoring groups like Salmo Streamkeepers have a constitution that require that all their information is to be made open to the public due to their charitable status. That’s not the case with Slocan Valley Streamkeepers and other community groups.

“If we ask for funding for a particular program, like Pete’s side channel study, then that’s not necessarily open to the public,” explains Yeow. “But if it’s something like a water monitoring program, which is Basin-wide, then the data gets entered onto the Environment Canada database.”

Lemon Creek resident Jon Burden: "Sometimes I get the feeling we're all guinea pigs." Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Lemon Creek resident Jon Burden: “Sometimes I get the feeling we’re all guinea pigs.” Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

And as the rather unfortunate old saying goes, there’s a hundred different ways to skin a cat. The same is true of testing for benthic invertebrates, those tiny, sometimes microscopic critters that most biologists agree are the surest indicators of stream health. In the monitoring plan released by SNC three different methods of analysis were listed, not necessarily the same ones used by Streamkeepers. According to Yeow there are hundreds of ways of testing this data.

“This is the crux of the reason that we want to see their data. If you put it into a different statistical analysis, you could see something quite different. It can sometimes be that the standard metric is just the one that everybody uses, it may not be the most comprehensive one.”

Initial results from field sampling done by Streamkeepers both upstream and downstream of the spill site on Lemon Creek are not promising. These samples revealed that above the spill benthic invertebrate populations seemed normal, with very little algal growth. Below the spill site there was very heavy algal growth, with benthic organisms or insects in the green mass of algae but Yeow says it’s likely they drifted down from above. Closer to the confluence there was nothing. These samples must still be sent off to a lab to be analyzed. Streamkeepers reserves the right to use a lab of its own choosing. In addition to these sites Streamkeepers will be sampling at the Lemon confluence, Slocan Island, South Slocan, Slocan as well as Bonanza Creek and Carpenter Creek for Slocan Lake Stewardship Society (SLSS).

Unfortunately, some things continue to be overlooked in the monitoring plan. The sediment testing proposed still does not allow for sampling of hydrocarbons in critical side channels below Lemon Creek. “We’ve noted this observation numerous times – to (EFC) and the Ministry and it doesn’t seem to make a difference,” says Yeow. “This is not encouraging.”

Streamkeepers have sampled for benthic invertebrates above and below the spill site. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Streamkeepers has sampled for benthic invertebrates above and below the spill site. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

No wonder the public is confused, with a subject this deeply technical. Is that what the Ministry and SNC Lavalin are counting on? The interpretation of highly specialized data can be a way to screen out the public. Once again we can be grateful Streamkeepers are there, doing their own sampling and analysis. But until an agreement is in place with SNC Lavalin for data sharing, it’s anyone’s guess whether the full and true picture of ecosystem health post-spill will be revealed.

“The good thing that’s come out of this is that our community recognizes the importance of healthy river system. And we now have a closer relationship with the folks in the north valley. We’ve put together a proposal that strengthens that; we’ll be working with Slocan Lake Stewardship Society and the Slocan Solutions group. The goal here is that we will just continue doing our monitoring and assessments so we have such a strong database that it simply cannot be ignored.”

To read my article in the Valley Voice, which still has useful information despite the error (scroll to page 2 of the PDF online), visit this link:  http://www.valleyvoice.ca/_pdf_2013/ValleyVoice131016web.pdf

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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4 Responses to Lemon Creek Monitoring Plan: the Politics of Self-Regulation

  1. hello – please google and print the history of larceny and illegal business tactics of SNC LAVELIN – gaddafi and the 120 million dollar pay out to build jails and other construction projects in Libya – how about the RCMP bringing charges against this company – how about the World Bank banning all bids by SNC LAVELIN on any financed project world wide – and how about the 3 billion dollar bridge scam in south east asia – the valley and residents deserve to know the status of this corp. , as well as being the 4th or 5th largest engineering firm on planet Earth – print the truth – check the research – i have – cheers – christopher pottruff – lemon creek resident –

  2. Thanks for commenting Christopher. Yes, I’m well aware of SNC Lavalin’s chequered history and for this reason I want to keep the spotlight on their activities in the Valley. Having Streamkeepers sampling and testing as an independent monitoring group will thus be invaluable.

  3. Juscha Grunther says:

    Hi Art,
    Good article. Glad too that you’re aware of SNC’s history. After the spill and one of your initial articles I wondered who they were and did some research. I was shocked to discover that, in addition to what Chris Potroff mentioned, SNC is:
    – the owner of Atomic Energy Canada
    – a monster corporation w/ more than 30,000 emplyees in over 100 countries
    – one of Canada’s largest arms and munitions manufacturers
    – a provider of ammunitions to the American occupation in Iraq
    – is embroiled in bribery scandals stretching from Libya to Algeria, from Bangladesh to Quebec and Alberta.

    In addition to all this, the guy who headed SNC until very recently, Gwyn Morgan, also formed a corporation that has been responsible for the fracking of 10s of thousands of wells on its way to becoming North America’s largest natural gas producer. ENCANA. Under Morgan’s leadership Encana broke the law, violated hundreds of regulations, was responsible for water contamination and air pollution causing thousands of families to become ill. Green Peace, the David Suzuki Foundation and other environmental groups have documented the devastation of rainforests and native cultures in S. America due to Encana’s pipleline building projects. Art, how can concerned folks even begin to trust this monster corporation? It should make people question the intentions of the airline that hired them too, don’t you think? Kind of like hiring a wolf to guard the sheep…

    Been wanting to send you this info for a while – if test results and information isn’t forthcoming, I’d do an article on SNC Lavalin – let people know just who is looking after our river…

    Thanks for the good work and keeping us all informed,

    • Thanks for the excellent information on SNC Lavalin, Juscha. As you say, when the time comes we’ll pull out these sordid facts as a way of pressuring them to do the right thing. I think having Streamkeepers as an extra pair of eyes and ears on the river could force them to pay more attention.

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