Crews remove the wreckage of the Columbia Fuels truck from the Malahat Drive on April 17

Driver linked to Goldstream fuel spill to plead guilty to one count

A truck driver who crashed and spilled 47,000 litres of fuel into Goldstream River last year will plead guilty to one charge

A former Columbia Fuels truck driver who crashed and spilled 42,700 litres of fuel into Goldstream River last year will plead guilty to one of his charges, his lawyer says.

James Allan Charles Smith, of Nanaimo, is charged with driving while impaired, driving with a blood alcohol level above 0.08 and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle.

The allegations stem from when a Victoria-bound Columbia Fuels truck flipped in the s-turns of the Malahat Drive on April 16, 2011, and plowed into the rock face.

With its tanks gashed open, the truck spilled 42,000 litres of gasoline and 700 litres of diesel into a culvert that emptied into the popular fish-bearing stream in Goldstream provincial park.

Smith’s defence lawyer Dale Marshall told the Gazette his client will enter a guilty plea to one of the three counts, but declined to say which one. “Things might change,” he said.

It appears Smith would likely plead guilty to dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, as opposed to one of the charges linked to impaired driving.

A scheduled pre-trial conference Thursday at Western Communities Courthouse turned into Marshall requesting the court to fix a date for a sentencing hearing. The Crown prosecutor didn’t object. That hearing is April 11 in Colwood.

Smith no longer works for Columbia Fuels and Marshall said his client “is not driving” for a living.

The dramatic crash killed hundreds or possibly thousands of fish in Goldstream River and closed the Malahat highway for nearly 24 hours, stranding hundreds of drivers.

The crash response and poor communication with drivers forced the Ministry of Transportation to reassess how it manages highway closures.

Eleven months after the crash, soil vapor extraction equipment is still drawing fuel out of the ground at two locations — next to the crash site on the highway and one area next to the river.

Graham Knox, with the Ministry of Environment, said contaminant levels ebb and flow with the level of groundwater pushing through the fractured bedrock, but overall the amount of fuel in the ground is declining.

The fuel pocket next to the river has likely leaked into the water a few times, Knox said, but the vast majority of contaminant readings are below provincial maximums.

“The soil vapor extractors are chipping away. (Fuel) is in the soil but it’s not impacting the fish,” Knox said. “Generally we’re quite happy. There’s no impact on aquatic organisms in the river, but the remediation at the site will continue for another eight months or a year.”

Knox expects Columbia Fuels to soon present a draft report outlining a restoration plan for the Goldstream River ecosystem.

The working group of government agencies, First Nations and Columbia Fuels needs to agree on an overall plan to restore Goldstream back to its state of health prior to the fuel spill.

The plan could include projects such as replacing spawning gravel flushed into the estuary during winter storms or replacing brood stock with the hatchery.

Knox said the ministry isn’t concerned about a particular dollar figure underwriting the restoration plan, but the plan must be adequate to bring the river back to full health.

“What we want to see is a proposal that is reasonable to restore a public asset for what has been lost and damaged,” he said.

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