Columbia Fuels has committed itself to years of monitoring and remediating Goldstream River in the wake of a fuel tanker crash in April.
The Ministry of Environment released the terms of reference last week, a document outlining the responsibilities of Columbia Fuels and its parent company Parkland Fuel Corp., in terms of restoring the Goldstream ecosystem back to health.
Mopping up residual traces of the 42,000 litres of gasoline and 700 litres of diesel fuel dumped into the river system is expected to take up to two years.
Determining the full impact on the cycle of salmon spawning could take much longer — thousands of juvenile coho and chum died shortly after the spill.
The surviving cohort will spend several years in the ocean before returning to Goldstream River to spawn — coho live in the saltwater for up to two years and chum for up to five.
“We want to look at fish numbers coming back two, three, five years on,” said Graham Knox, manager of the environmental emergency program with the Ministry of Environment. “What comes in this year isn’t related to the Goldstream spill.”
Environmental consultants, though, will be exploring “sub lethal” effects of the fuel on fish through tissue analysis. Goldstream hatchery staff know coho remain in certain territories in-stream, some above the spill site and some below.
Columbia is also required to fund a regime of insect, wildlife and habitat impact assessment, as well as water and streamside sampling for trace fuels. Ministry staff are concerned residual fuel could be migrating from the spill site to the river through fractured bedrock.
Knox said the monitoring program will continue weekly and then spread out if no more fuel is detected. With that said, environmental consultants still have their work cut out to find and track fuel creeping underground.
“Because of the highway and fractured bedrock, it makes it a lot more challenging. There’s a lot more drilling to be done to determine what is happening,” Knox said. “It’s not a quick sample and everything looks good so off you go.”
Ultimately, Columbia Fuels is seeking a certificate of compliance within two years, which would mean the gasoline and diesel has been removed from the Goldstream ecosystem. Knox noted that even if Columbia is issued a certificate, the case can be reopened if fuel is missed.
“There is always a possibility they missed something,” he said. “(A certificate of compliance) doesn’t extinguish liability fully and completely.”
Andrea Voysey, speaking for Columbia Fuels, said the company is committed to restoring the Goldstream River ecosystem.
“We’ve always said we will do what it takes to ensure the park gets back to its original shape, if not better,” Voysey said. “This (agreement) is part of that.”
Voysey said the company is still calculating what it will cost for long-term remediation and monitoring, and that final number won’t be released publicly.
Along with Goldstream hatchery volunteers, various federal and provincial regulatory agencies and environmental consultants, and five Saanich Tribes are written into the terms of reference as key partners.
Columbia and Saanich Tribes have established their own confidential relationship agreement, which likely sets out compensation to First Nations members working on Goldstream River monitoring and restoration.
Knox said involving First Nations members in the cleanup response has been a challenge — there is no clear pay mechanism for people working on the river but not employed by the government.
“As much as First Nations want to be engaged and involved, there is no fund to pay for their involvement,” Knox said. “It’s a huge challenge with any spill. First Nations need to be compensated for their work on the river.”