Work is continuing at the Marie Lake diesel spill site, but crews have had a couple of lucky breaks.
First, the wind which had been keeping the oil away from the nearby fish hatchery continued blowing the oil away until shortly before the first containment booms were in place Wednesday night. Then, on Thursday afternoon, it was discovered that some diesel fuel remained in the upside down tank truck, and that not all of its 18,000 litres escaped into the bush, a small creek and the lake. It’s not clear how much, but it could be a couple of thousand litres, maybe more, and one crew member said any amount is a plus, since it means less to clean out of the environment.
The incident started around 11:00 am Wednesday morning. A fuel tanker operated by North Arm Transportation of Masset, on its way to Rennell Sound, hit some loose gravel and skidded off the main logging road, about halfway between Port and Queen Charlotte. It rolled and plunged down a 30-metre embankment, finishing upside down, fuel pouring out of at least one gaping hole in the tank, just 80 metres from Marie Lake, which is connected to the Yakoun River and the site of an important fish hatchery.
The driver, 23-year old Mike Stelmaschuk of Masset was slightly injured in the crash. He was treated and released in Masset hospital Wednesday afternoon with only an injured shoulder and some bruising.
“He (the driver) was wandering around beside the truck, trying to find his dog,” said Helmer Smith, an employee of the hatchery who was first on the scene.
Crews worked until late Wednesday night getting the booms in place. They had deployed two absorbent booms and two containment booms by Thursday afternoon. “Nothing is going past the boomed area,” Robert Russ of Haida Fisheries told us at the site Thursday. He also said a small skimmer is on the scene, and a larger one is on the way.
It’s not clear what the clean-up operation will cost or how long it will last, but we overhead a DFO employee say “millions”, and others have predicted it wlll take months.
The lake is part of the Yakoun River system, the most productive salmon watershed on the islands. “It couldn’t be in a worse area than this,” Robert Russ of Haida Fisheries said Wednesday.
The fish hatchery, operated by the Old Massett Village Council and DFO, had 250,000 salmon fry before the accident. Crews immediately began transferring them to the Yakoun River, finishing releasing them on Thursday. The fish were released only a week or so earlier than planned, so their survival rate should be similar to what it would have been had they been released at the normal time.
Ray Sjolund of federal fisheries in Queen Charlotte said that diesel fuel, like other fuels, has some molecules that can dissolve in water, and that damage to fish habitat can be done even if no visible oil is present.
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