Residents of the Slocan Valley filed a class action suit over the spill of over 33,000 litres of jet fuel into Lemon Creek late last month.
The action that was filed on Wednesday by resident Robert Kirk names the Province of British Columbia and Executive Flight Centre as defendants and alleges negligence and nuisance.
Kirk says fuel was carelessly brought into the Lemon Creek area to fight the forest fire on Perry Ridge.
“They set up an ad hoc fuel depot in an environmentally sensitive area without taking due care. They could have easily avoided the spill had they taken any one of various safety measures: a sign, map, a VHF radio or a flag person by the side of the road,” said Kirk.
Kirk lives on a 51-acre property on the east bank of the Slocan River six kilometres south of Lemon Creek. The retired man’s property consists of about 45 acres of wetlands within the flood plane of the Slocan River.
The morning after the July 26 spill, Kirk says he awoke with a headache and sore throat to discover an evacuation order posted to his door. A pool of fuel accumulated fuel on his property remains today, with the addition of an orange flag placed by authorities. Kirk says he’s observed a complete absence of wildlife from his property.
“The Slocan River is a dead zone. The wildlife are gone. Ducks, herons and deer have been pulled out dead from the river. The shorelines and wetlands that were once nesting grounds are now scattered with fish carcasses,” he said.
Austin Greengrass is a local resident and member of the class action suit. He says this tragedy was preventable. “Tremendous suffering” includes the physical symptoms of burning eyes, blisters, sore throats, headaches, respiratory distress and neuromuscular symptoms as well as people being displaced from their homes, farms contaminated and businesses shut down.
“This is over 30,000 liters of perhaps the most dangerous and long-lasting types of fuel — released directly into an aquatic environment spanning over 40 kilometres,” he says. “This is the largest spill of its kind in Canadian history. The total impact of human suffering and ecological damage will not be seen for years.”
The lawsuit alleges that the province used fuel-contaminated water to fight the Perry Ridge forest fire exacerbating the harm.
“They doused a forest fire with fuel contaminated water – we’re facing a circus of incompetence,” says Greengrass. “Who can we trust keep us safe?”
The Perry Ridge Water Users Association is assisting the plaintiff in the administration of the class action. The association is a society incorporated under the laws of British Columbia with its offices in the Slocan Valley. It has represented local water users on environmental matters, including litigation, for 30 years.
“The law suit stands to trigger full disclosure,” Marilyn Burgoon, president of the Perry Ridge Water Users Association. “At this point, we do not even have particulars as to the exact composition of the fuel. Material has been released into our water and we need to know what’s in it in order to properly react.”
David M. Aaron, plaintiff counsel explained the lawsuit seeks relief and an order requiring the defendants to consult independent environmental experts as they monitor and remediate damage.
“The plaintiff is uncomfortable with the fact that clean up is in the hands of the parties that were allegedly irresponsible enough to let this happen. We are asking the court to compel the defendants to meaningfully consult with an independent environment scientist who may give input into monitoring and remediation strategies,” he says.
The defendants will have 21 days from being served to file their defense pleading. Then the plaintiff will seek to have the action certified under the Class Proceedings Act.