Com­pany fined $2.9M for diesel spill from tug

The Prince George Citizen - - News - Camille BAINS

BELLA BELLA — The com­pany re­spon­si­ble for a fuel spill that con­tam­i­nated the fish­ing ter­ri­tory of a First Na­tion on Bri­tish Columbia’s cen­tral coast has been fined $2.9 mil­lion but the chief of the Heilt­suk says the sen­tence is a long way from jus­tice.

Texas-based Kirby Corp. pleaded guilty in May to three sep­a­rate counts af­ter the tug Nathan E. Stew­art ran aground and sank, spilling 110,000 litres of diesel and heavy oils in Oc­to­ber 2016.

The guilty pleas were un­der the Fish­eries Act, the Mi­gra­tory Birds Con­ven­tion Act and the Pilotage Act for the spill that dam­aged both fish and birds, and for fail­ing to have a pi­lot aboard the ves­sel.

The Trans­porta­tion Safety Board ruled last May that a crew mem­ber missed a planned course change be­cause he fell asleep while alone on watch.

Chief Mar­i­lyn Slett said Tuesday the Heilt­suk Na­tion wanted the com­pany to be banned from its ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters un­til there is proper resti­tu­tion in ac­cor­dance with the na­tion’s tra­di­tional laws to re­spect the land and the people who de­pend on the sea for sus­te­nance and jobs.

Slett, along with el­ders and youth as well as rep­re­sen­ta­tives for Kirby, par­tic­i­pated in a sen­tenc­ing cir­cle dur­ing pro­vin­cial court pro­ceed­ings held in a gym­na­sium in Bella Bella be­fore Judge Brent Hoy an­nounced the sen­tence.

“The ef­fects of the spill have rip­pled through­out our com­mu­nity,” Slett said in her vic­tim­im­pact state­ment.

“Our com­mu­nity was trau­ma­tized by the ac­tions of vis­i­tors in our ter­ri­tory, and we have col­lec­tively grieved and mourned our losses.”

“It was emo­tional,” she said af­ter­wards. “We’re still feel­ing the ef­fects of this spill and we’re con­tin­u­ing to try and re­sume life to see what we can do mov­ing for­ward to en­sure that this doesn’t hap­pen to us again.”

The com­mu­nity still does not have ad­e­quate re­sources to re­spond to any fu­ture in­ci­dents, Slett said.

Fam­i­lies can’t fish in Gale Creek and the na­tion is try­ing to gain jus­tice through a civil law­suit against Kirby, Slett said, adding the com­pany has cho­sen not to do an en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact assessment.

“We have a prin­ci­ple that if we take care of the land the land will take care of us,” she said.

Paul Welsh, spokesman for Kirby, de­clined to com­ment but is­sued a state­ment from the com­pany.

“We sin­cerely re­gret this in­ci­dent and we have amended our op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures, train­ing, au­dit­ing, promotion pro­to­cols and equip­ment to help re­duce the po­ten­tial for fu­ture ac­ci­dents,” it said.

Wil­liam Housty, 37, said in his vic­tim-im­pact state­ment that he was among the first re­spon­ders af­ter the spill and joined Slett in serv­ing as an in­ci­dent com­man­der on be­half of their na­tion.

“My 27 days in this role were one of the most stress­ful, hurt­ful and challengin­g of my life,” he said, adding his team worked hard to fit into a re­sponse sys­tem the mem­bers knew nothing about and fought to be in­cluded with Kirby in as­sess­ing a barge that had also sunk.

“It was from that point on that it was stated that for any and ev­ery crew that went any­where in our ter­ri­tory there had to be a Heilt­suk per­son on that crew. This caused ex­treme an­noy­ance to ev­ery­one but we forced it to hap­pen,” said Housty, who is chair of the board of di­rec­tors for the Heilt­suk In­te­grated Re­source Man­age­ment Depart­ment.

About 70 per cent of the com­mu­nity is un­em­ployed and about 40 people who re­lied on the clam fish­ery through the fall and win­ter can no longer pro­vide for their fam­i­lies, he said.

The First Na­tion is seek­ing fund­ing to im­ple­ment in­no­va­tive projects de­signed to cre­ate healthy fish pop­u­la­tions else­where on its ter­ri­tory, Housty said.

Amid those ef­forts, the ef­fects of emo­tional trauma linger among many of the first re­spon­ders fol­low­ing the spill, he added.

“This in­ci­dent has caused so much dam­age to all of us and there is no amount of money in the world that can re­place what was lost.”

HEILT­SUK FIRST NA­TION HAND­OUT FILE PHOTO BY APRIL BENCZE

The tug boat Nathan E. Stew­art is seen in the wa­ters of the Seaforth Chan­nel near Bella Bella on Oct. 23, 2016.

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