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No compensation for Lemon Creek spill victims

Residents affected by the spill at Lemon Creek last year shouldn
Residents affected by the spill at Lemon Creek last year shouldn't expect any government compensation, BC's environment minister said this week.
— image credit: Kevin Kinsella photo

More than eight months after a tanker truck spilled jet fuel into Lemon Creek, BC’s environment minister says no compensation is forthcoming from government for affected residents.

“We actually would not have the authority nor the ability to do anything more than recoup our reasonable response and cleanup costs,” Mary Polak said in response to questions from Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy during debate Tuesday. “We don't have the authority or the ability to collect in terms of compensation or, in fact, to provide compensation. It's not within our authority to do so.”

Conroy said Slocan Valley residents are still feeling the aftermath of the spill, which saw 33,000 litres of fuel pour into the creek and then flow into the Slocan and Kootenay rivers. Some people lost their livelihoods and others are still feeling health effects, she said.

“I think it would be appropriate for the ministry to consider some kind of compensation,” she told Polak. “It might be a novel concept, but it might also be something the minister would like to think on if they’re saying they can protect the coast of British Columbia from oil spills.”

When Conroy initially posed her question, Polak replied that due to a class-action lawsuit filed last year by a resident, she couldn’t predict when everything would be resolved: “I think, sadly, it probably will take a significant amount of time.”

The suit names the province, the helicopter company that required the fuel to respond to a forest fire, and the transport company, Calgary-based Executive Flight Centre.

Conroy also asked if Polak saw any conflict in the company evaluating the environmental impact of the spill, SNC-Lavalin, being paid by Executive Flight Centre. However, Polak said she couldn’t comment because of the legal action.

Conroy further asked if SNC-Lavalin would use baseline data for fish populations compiled by the Slocan River Streamkeepers. “I understand it’s been offered to the ministry as well as SNC-Lavalin and that offer hasn’t been accepted,” she said. “It is there, it’s available.”

Polak said she couldn’t speak for the company but ministry staff, who approved the company’s environmental monitoring plan, would welcome the information.

Conroy asked if the government has learned any lessons from the spill and would develop a response protocol for rural areas to speed up response to such incidents. She called the delay in starting containment efforts at Lemon Creek “a bit of a disaster.”

“[Residents are] hoping the minister will commit to some kind of spill protocol so that things can be dealt with much more efficiently, people can get the help they need quickly, the cleanup can happen quickly and people know who’s responsible for what,” Conroy said.

Polak replied that any such incident is followed by “fairly extensive debriefing” to determine if anything can be improved. However, “At this stage, that has had to remain an internal debrief, and when the legal wranglings are over, we’ll be able to extend that more broadly, involve the community.”

The full transcript of the exchange can be found here.

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