Lemon Creek trial to commence October 11
A provincial court judge in Nelson has set the start of a criminal trial stemming from a 2013 aviation fuel spill in the Slocan Valley for mid-October.
Judge Robert Brown told lawyers attending a preliminary hearing by conference call that the trial will begin on October 11.
The Executive Flight Centre, one of its employees, and the provincial government are all co-defendants in the case, begun after a tanker truck carrying aviation fuel up a logging road in the Slocan Valley tipped over and spilled 33,000 litres of fuel.
The spill killed fish and wildlife downstream, and affected shallow wells of residents living in the area.
It took nearly three years for charges to be laid, and only came after a local activist, Marilyn Burgoon, successfully laid private criminal charges against the defendants. Her win in court prompted the federal government to lay charges in July.
Burgoon was in the courtroom to watch the start of the long-awaited trial. After the brief hearing she said “the outcome is what’s really important”.
“That’s why I want to follow it right through,” she told reporters. “The community is totally behind the charges, so it’s important we do monitor it and see where it goes. So it is important it goes forward in this way.”
The spill occurred when the Executive Flight Centre, which provides aviation fuel to the province’s firefighting efforts, sent driver Danny LaSante up the Lemon Creek Road in the Slocan valley to deliver a load of fuel.
The driver got lost and the truck overturned, spilling the contents of the load into Lemon Creek. Residents downstream from the spill were told to leave their homes while the spill was cleaned up.
The slow start to the cleanup efforts was strongly criticized by residents.
The province investigated, concluding that no charges were warranted. That infuriated locals like Burgoon, who worked with the West Coast Environmental Law Centre to lay rarely-used private criminal charges against the trucking company, the driver LaSante, and the provincial government.
In July the federal government decided to lay its own charges, appointing prosecutor John Cliffe to handle the case. Burgoon’s case was stayed while the federal case works its way through the courts.
The defendants have been charged with two counts of “depositing a deleterious substance in a water frequented by fish” under the Fisheries Act. The penalty on conviction is a minimum of $5,000 for an individual and $100,000 for the government or a company.
There are also six counts of “introducing waste into a stream causing pollution” under the Environmental Management Act. The maximum penalty set out in the Act is a $1-million fine or six months in jail.
The defendants have not set their pleas in the case.
A civil case by residents is also running parallel to the criminal trial.