This notice from Interior Health was still posted to a tree at Lemon Creek at the start of September. One resident says IH jumped the gun in declaring the water safe to drink following a fuel spill.

Ombudsman won’t investigate Slocan fuel spill

A Slocan Valley resident who isn’t ready to forget the fuel spill into Lemon Creek has complained to the BC Ombudsman’s office, to no avail.

A Slocan Valley resident who isn’t ready to forget this summer’s jet fuel spill into Lemon Creek has filed a complaint with the BC Ombudsman’s office — to no avail.

John Wittmayer approached the agency in August to see if it would investigate how varying authorities handled the spill. After a long wait, it was suggested he narrow his focus for a less daunting task.

He decided to name Interior Health, but this month was told it was doubtful there are enough grounds for a probe. Wittmayer shared his response to the ombudsman with the Star.

“You stated… that you can only investigate procedure, policy, and protocol. This is exactly what is needed here,” he wrote. “Your investigation could actually do some good for Canadians who want to ensure that response times and emergency procedures and protocols are put in place to protect people facing these types of disasters in the future.”

On July 26, an Executive Flight Centre truck carrying jet fuel for helicopters battling a wildfire on Perry Ridge took a wrong turn onto a forest service road and overturned into Lemon Creek, spilling 33,000 litres.

Wittmayer was a volunteer coordinator with Quantum Murray who was assigned the task of spill cleanup. He said IH didn’t conduct enough sampling and didn’t review health-related information collected from people coming into the resiliency/recovery centre despite there being over 60 documented cases.

“Our community was traumatized by this event on many levels, and this has been documented by those of us working under the auspices of emergency agencies set up to deal with it. So far, IHA has refused to analyze these reports and comment on them,” he told the ombudsman’s office.

Wittmayer said the health authority also lifted the do not use water ban while there was still “observable and detectable” fuel in the water system. “The people in the Slocan Valley have lost trust in IHA’s ability to meet health concerns,” he told the Star.

Should an investigation not occur, Wittmayer believes ignoring an event that “so powerfully impacted our communities in the Slocan Valley, the ombudsman’s office will simply reinforce the current cynicism that many people have.”

In the months since the spill, Wittmayer feels that the issue has disappeared from the spotlight. Executive Flight Centre’s website dedicated to informing residents after the spill hasn’t been updated since August’s end, for example.

“It’s gotten really, really quiet,” said the resident who wants to keep talking as long as the spill’s effects are still lingering. He says fuel can still be smelled and some families still don’t have potable water.

“There are still families who live in Lemon Creek and adjacent areas who continue to experience hardships around this spill,” he told the Ombudsman’s office.

While the BC Ombudsman’s office didn’t return a call from the Star, Interior Health did say they feel they properly handled the Lemon Creek spill.

Roger Parsonage, IH regional director for health protection said: “The concerns raised by this individual have been raised previously. Interior Health is confident in the decisions we have made through this process — decisions which were made in the interest of the public’s health and safety.”