Executive Flight Services VP apologizes; no use water order remains for Slocan Valley
By Suzy Hamilton, The Nelson Daily
Frustration and anger were palpable at the Winlaw Community Hall, as a room overflowing into the parking lot with Slocan Valley residents heard the bad news.
It will be at least five days and maybe 10 before Slocan Valley residents can use their water in any form. That means no swimming, no floating, no watering, and certainly no bathing or drinking of water from Lemon Creek, Slocan River and Kootenay River above or below Brilliant Dam to the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers at Castlegar.
“I do want to acknowledge to everybody the severity of this incident,” Dr. Trevor Corneil told the packed in crowd. He was one of 10 panelists presenting information from various ministries, local governments and the RCMP.
Corneil is a Medical Health Officer with Interior Health in Kelowna. He told residents that the role of IH is to assess the risk to the population and do what it can to support the safety of the population.
“It really was something that nobody would ever want to happened. Along with that, of course, came the significant inconvenience, the evacuation, the road closures, etc, really very difficult, and we don’t make decisions lightly.”
On Friday, July 26, a tanker owned by Executive Flight Services in Calgary flipped into Lemon Creek about 2 pm while trying to deliver 35,000 liters of jet fuel to a helicopter landing site being used to fight a nearby forest fire.
Within hours, an evacuation order for 700 people was expanded to include 2,500 in the Slocan Valley as the fumes pervaded the air and the fuel contaminated Lemon Creek, Slocan River and the Kootenay River to the Brilliant Dam. The highway was opened at noon the following day, but a do not use the water order remains in place.
Many who couldn’t get in the hall Tuesday night were listening to the presentations and questions on speakers outside the hall.
Cars were parked for nearly a kilometer on both sides of the highway as residents clamoured for answers to questions that cannot be answered yet.
The do-not-use order will not be removed until the IH is sure the water is safe to use, Dr. Corneil told the unhappy crowd. This will be determined by how quickly the river looks clean and how quickly test results are received.
In the meantime, residents complained of health problems including skin rashes, fumes in furniture and clothing, and not enough water for livestock, poor communication and economic hardships.
Dr. Corneil told one woman that he didn’t believe she was in a safe situation with her health compromised daughter, and another not to sell her produce at any market.
“People should not be buying vegetables from commercial farms,” Dr. Corneil said.
In the majority of cases, well water is not affected by this order; however, shallow wells close to the creek or rivers, particularly those in gravel or sandy soils, may be impacted.
Residents should not use well water if there is a fuel smell in the well or at any tap, Dr. Corneil advised.
But it was Wayne Smook, vice president of Executive Flight Services that owns the tanker who apologized to the people.
“I am offering an apology. I know water and the watershed itself is very important to the valley. We are committed to doing the job right,” he said to applause. “We do apologize. It was an accident.”
However, he did not offer a version of what caused the accident nor more details on the driver.
That is going to be left to the Ministry of Forests as the accident occurred on a forest service road and it will be under a forestry investigation.
Monitoring the rivers and removal of dead animals is ongoing, the crowd was told. Anyone still undergoing effects as a result of the spill was told to contact RDCK fire chief Terry Swan.
Information on claims, RDCK support and the environment is available through the RDCK at www.rdck.bc.ca.