The BC Ombudsperson’s office is investigating a complaint coming from a Slocan Valley resident who feels Interior Health didn’t properly handle the spill into Lemon Creek.
After this complaint seemed to initially fall on deaf ears, John Wittmayer who was a volunteer coordinator with Quantum Murray, assigned the task of spill cleanup, confirms the investigation is underway.
“There was a lot of public backlash on their waffling on whether there was enough information to warrant an investigation,” says Wittmayer.
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.
Since the spill, agencies involved and the company responsible for the fuel transport have grown quiet despite residents’ ongoing frustration. Wittmayer feels the Ombudsperson office’s investigation is important to keep the issue at the forefront.
“The Slocan Valley residents are getting the attention that they should get with this particular issue and event and the more we keep those issues in the spotlight the better,” he says.
Wittmayer contends 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.
Wittmayer says the health authority also lifted the do not use water ban while there was still “observable and detectable” fuel in the water system.
What will come of the investigation is unknown but simply having one underway is considered positive, he says.
“It’s not something that’s going to necessarily spill out into the public domain… I don’t know what the outcome of the investigation will be but I do feel this is success in the sense that we get them to acknowledge the Slocan Valley residents were really unhappy with how these agencies were operating this summer,” Wittmayer says.
The BC Ombudsperson is an independent officer of the Provincial Legislature that ensures the administrative practices and services of public agencies are “fair, reasonable, appropriate and equitable.”
Information officer Alexis Lunn says investigations are confidential though once complete, a brief summary is included in their annual report to the Legislature and are found online on their website.
“When a matter proceeds to investigation, we consider whether or not there appears to have been any administrative unfairness. And if so, we work towards achieving a fair and reasonable resolution. At the end of the investigation, the parties involved are advised in writing of the results,” she explains.
The majority of ombudsperson investigations take about six months and as a result, recommendations are issued, not orders.
Interior Health previously told the Star 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.”