Cabinet minister visits Lemon Creek, speaks on situation

Environment Minister Mary Polak has brief media contact in Castlegar on Aug. 30

Provincial Environment Minister Mary Polak is welcomed at West Kootenay Regional Airport by BC Liberal colleague Kevin Chernoff on Aug. 30

Provincial Environment Minister Mary Polak visited local BC Liberal contacts in Castlegar on Aug. 30. The meeting following a several hour tour of sites in the Slocan Valley affected by a July 26 spill of about 30,000 litres of jet fuel into Lemon Creek.

The Minister first met briefly at West Kootenay Regional Airport with media representatives from the Castlegar News and The Castlegar Source.

“I had a chance to tour the crash site, further downstream as well,” she related. “Got to talk with some of the folks from my ministry and with a communications specialist contracted for much of the spill clean-up), and some (regional) district directors and hear from them about not only their experiences but what they’ve heard from residents.”

With the tour taking place more than a month after a fuel laden tanker had left a roadway to end up in the creek, the minister was asked first why it had taken so long for her to make an appearance in the area.

“Quite on purpose,” she stated. “When you have a crisis like that unfolding it can be a mistake to bring in a minister. It’s a distraction, you end up taking people away from what’s necessary work at the time… and that’s managing the crisis. It was a very conscious decision to be here on the ground after we had more hard information where we could see the status of the clean-up, what ongoing monitoring is going to mean, because that’s going to take some ongoing policy planning from us as well.”

The minister was asked if she was willing to give a grade to the clean-up effort to date, and she declined to do so, indicating it was much to early in the process for such a review.

“It would be really irresponsible for me to try to do that at this stage,” she said. “We’ve just come out the other end of this. We’re still talking with folks from the regional district, other agencies of government. I wouldn’t want to pronounce on the efforts. I can say that the status right now appears very good.” Polak went on to assert that there would be no set date for closure for the monitoring process.

“Like I said to another reporter, there’s no bright line that says, ‘now we’re cleaning up… now we’re monitoring, it’s just not that hard and fast.”

To the question by the Castlegar Source about do-not-drink orders being lifted while some residents are continue to notice fuel in waterways, the minister replied, “That’s completely the jurisdiction of Health. There’s nothing that I can do to change, or affect that change.”

Polak indicated there had been insufficient time available during the Aug. 30 tour for meeting with local residents. A later call to her ministry about whether any such contacts, perhaps in the context of a public forum, for example, would be forthcoming, was responded to by an email from communications person David Karn, which stated,

“There are no public meetings planned at this time.  The ministry is posting information as it becomes available. The ministry and IHA has had representatives at the recovery centre for the past two weeks to respond to public enquiries. The number of requests has dropped significantly.

“It is possible that once the monitoring plan data begins to come in possibly next spring – there may be additional information which would be best shared in a public workshop format.”

Polak described during her brief interview a strong empathy for those who continue to be affected by the event, and that contact between them and her ministry is welcomed.

In closing, credit was focused on those who have been toiling on the front lines.

“I really think it’s important to express,” said Minister Polak, “in a really tough situation, responders did tremendous work in overcoming obstacles that presented themselves. It’s really challenging to deal with a situation like this, when there are so many jurisdictions that overlap.”

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