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Habitat healing after fuel spill

Apr 14 2012
Environmental scientists survey the damage after a truck crash spilled fuel into Goldstream River last April. 

Environmental scientists survey the damage after a truck crash spilled fuel into Goldstream River last April.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam , timescolonist.com (2011)

Plant and animal life has returned to the river at Goldstream Provincial Park, one year after a tanker truck spilled thousands of litres of fuel into the sensitive habitat, the provincial government says.

Surface water quality is clean enough to exceed provincial guidelines, more than 617 tonnes of contaminated soil has been trucked away, and fish, animals and plants have recovered, according to the Environment Ministry.

Government officials are holding a family-oriented open house at the park today, from 12 to 3 p.m., to highlight the cleanup efforts and take public questions.

A Columbia Fuels tanker truck spilled more than 42,000 litres of gasoline and 650 litres of diesel at the site last April, after the truck crashed into a rock wall, at the south entrance to the Malahat.

The 34-year-old driver, James Allan Charles Smith, has publicly indicated he intends to plead guilty to impaired and dangerous driving charges in June.

Columbia Fuels, which is responsible for the environmental remediation, has spent tens of thousands of dollars on the cleanup.

The Environment Ministry says it has repeatedly sampled the soil, water and sediment at the crash site, as well as conducted biological and hydrocarbon surveys, during the past year.

Crews continue to check water levels and use a soilvapour extraction system to skim remaining pollution from the water's surface.

There had been concerns last fall that spawning salmon might avoid the river due to pollution.

Thousands of chum salmon returned, but there weren't many coho or chinook, said Peter McCully, manager of the Goldstream Hatchery. He said he's confident the ministry and Columbia Fuels have "pulled out all the stops" in their cleanup efforts, but said there is still potential for problems.

"They're still recovering fuel, and fuel is a toxin. As long as that's coming out, there's problems with the water quality," McCully said. "We've no idea what the long-term effect is going to be. We're talking a cycle or two down the road."

Despite the progress, ministry officials have repeatedly said it will take several years to fully complete the cleanup.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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