With the trial over the 2013 fuel spill into Lemon Creek set to resume any week now, public scrutiny will again focus on the incident and its aftermath. Unfortunately, that’s largely missing the point: it’s what occurred in the moments before the spill that should resonate most with Slocan Valley residents; specifically, the fuel truck driver’s inability to communicate by cell phone.
This may have prevented the episode entirely — the driver being apprised that he may have been on the wrong road to the helicopter awaiting refuelling to fight a forest fire.
But it’s often convenient to ignore the obvious, and in this case the lack of cell phone coverage along a populated, commercial highway corridor may have resulted in 33,000 litres of jet fuel entering Lemon Creek.
The defendants in the lawsuit are the Executive Flight Centre, which employed the driver, the driver himself, and the provincial government. That’s all fine and dandy, but make no mistake: in the court of public opinion, Telus is on trial, too.
In 2011, Telus signed an agreement with the province to connect more than 1,700 kilometres of unconnected highways with wireless service by the end of 2016. Highway 6, which crosses Lemon Creek between Crescent Valley and Slocan City, is included in that contract.
The Connecting British Columbia Agreement (CBCA) clearly outlines that Telus and the province have failed to live up to their commitments.
This despite numerous entreaties from civic authorities and emergency services to get the cell service up and running, including a petition forwarded by Slocan City council asking Telus and the Ministry of Transportation to provide the village with cell phone service.
The RCMP has publicly acknowledged that their communications activities during the search for a Slocan shooting suspect were hampered by the lack of cell coverage.
It’s a fact that more than half of all 911 calls are currently made from cell phones — a vital tool in emergency response and public safety.
The province — equally culpable and co-signatory to the Connecting British Columbia Agreement — is a defendant in the Lemon Creek case and will formally take the stand.
The government’s silence on Slocan public safety and security is about to end: Crown prosecutors and a judge will see to that.