NELSON, B.C. - The British Columbia government and a fuel-service company are facing allegations under the Fisheries Act in a rare prosecution launched by a member of the public.
A provincial court judge approved the charges filed by Marilyn Burgoon, a Kootenay, B.C., resident, over a massive jet fuel spill in July 2013 that caused environmental devastation when a truck spilled its load into a creek in the province's southeast.
Judge Mayland McKimm ruled there was enough evidence to lay charges against both the province and Executive Flight Centre Fuel Services Ltd., after 30,000 litres of jet fuel was discharged into a fish-bearing creek.
It means a summons will be issued for both parties and a court hearing will be set.
The charge under the Fisheries Act says in an offence to deposits a deleterious substance in water frequented by fish.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Burgoon, whose legal effort was supported by West Coast Environmental's dispute resolution fund, said getting the charges laid was important for democracy and the fish and habitat in the Slocan Valley.
"This provincial court decision means that government and industry are still accountable for their actions in a court of law. Even when government and industry drag their feet to avoid investigation of environmental offences, justice can still prevail," Burgoon said in a statement.
Executive Flight Centre Fuel Services Ltd. was hired by the province to deliver fuel to fire-fighting helicopters in the Slocan Valley. Its truck overturned on a service road, spilling the fuel directly into Lemon Creek.
During a hearing in Nelson, B.C., on Nov. 27, the court heard that the day before the accident a different fuel truck was given the wrong directions and also went up the Lemon Creek forest service road in an attempt to find the helicopter staging area.
The court heard that the driver was able to get his truck out of the area and he told others when he arrived at the staging area that he was given incorrect directions.
Burgoon alleged that the province was responsible for signage and directing traffic to the staging area.
"The allegation is that the signage was incorrect and that error was compounded by a failure to correct the signage prior to the accident on July 26," McKimm's ruling said. "Essentially it's alleged the province knew or ought to have known that tanker trucks containing enormous quantities of jet fuel were being misdirected."
A spokesman with the B.C. Environment Ministry said it would be inappropriate to offer comment while the case is before the courts.
Wayne Smook, the chief operating officer of the Calgary-based Executive Flight Centre, would not comment on the allegations before the court, but said the cleanup of the area is progressing.
He said the latest tests on water showed no contamination.
"Obviously the remediation that we did worked very well," he said.
Smook said they're still doing testing on fish populations and micro organisms in the creek and hope to have final test results in by early next year.
"We obviously apologize for the spill, it was a situation where we responded to one event when we created another."
The spill prompted a brief evacuation alert for nearby residents and a weeks-long do-not-use water order for residents along Lemon Creek and the Slocan River.