The City of Port Alberni is reaching out to the federal government for some financial assistance with McLean Mill now that costs associated with an oil spill at the national historic site have reached more than $1 million.
Back in October, a rail tank car was found to be leaking bunker oil in the rail yard at the McLean Mill National Historic Site. The total volume of oil spilled is now estimated to be 6,000 litres.
City CAO Tim Pley explained during a council meeting on Monday, Dec. 14 that all the contaminated soil and material has now been recovered and transported to disposal facilities in the Lower Mainland. The excavated area has been backfilled with clean aggregate material. There is “no evidence” that bunker oil entered any stream, Pley said.
Acting director of engineering Ken Watson added that the oil had “seeped into the ground dramatically,” so a larger amount of material than expected had to be removed.
“We were able to contain the material in the area where it spilled without it getting into the adjacent wetlands and creeks,” said Watson. “We had to remove all three of the rail lines that were in proximity. Just that transportation and disposal was more than half the associated costs.”
The city has stated that sometime prior to Oct. 26, a locked valve was opened on a rail tank car. Director of parks, recreation and heritage Willa Thorpe added on Monday that there are “numerous” valves on the tank car that must be “intentionally” opened.
“It wasn’t a case of an environmental situation or an act of God that would have opened those valves,” said Thorpe. “It’s uncertain at this point whether that was a malicious act or an accident.”
The rail tank car, which was located on a rail siding near the eastern property boundary, had been storing fuel for the No. 7 steam engine. The steam engine has not been operating for the past two years, and in that time it has been converted to use diesel oil instead of Bunker C oil.
“There’s nobody that we’re aware of that would have a reason to interact with that tank,” said Pley.
The Port Alberni RCMP confirmed that there is an ongoing investigation into the spill. The spill was reported to the detachment on Nov. 3, but the cause of the incident is “inconclusive” so far, said Cpl. Jacon Racz of the Port Alberni RCMP. He added that the geography of the scene has made the investigation difficult.
“It’s not a densely populated area where you would have a lot of witnesses,” said Racz.
Pley said he doesn’t know the full cost to the city yet, but expects it to be “significant.” So far, cleanup is estimated at $1.25 million. Insurance will only cover up to $100,000, so city staff is looking for other funding sources in the meantime.
On Monday, council expressed frustration with the cost of McLean Mill.
Mayor Sharie Minions pointed out that the city is unable to move forward on other initiatives when McLean Mill keeps coming first.
“I feel like I can’t support one more dollar going into this,” she said. “It never ends. It’s one disaster after another. It seems like everything that can go wrong out there goes wrong. It’s all of the unexpected costs, the unanticipated costs, the unbudgeted costs that are going to bankrupt us with this mill.”
Councillor Cindy Solda added that there is still more cleanup to be done.
“We have some ambitious things on our strategic plan, and it’s going to take a lot of money,” said Solda. “And we’re pumping a lot of money into the McLean Mill, just fixing up things.”
Councillor Ron Corbeil proposed writing to Steven Guilbeault, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, to try and get some assistance from senior levels of government.
“[McLean Mill is] costing this community hundreds of thousands of dollars and, quite frankly, I’m really getting quite tired of it,” he said. “This community is not big enough to afford luxuries like this.”
Council agreed on Monday to submit a letter to the federal government, asking for financial assistance.
Council also agreed to submit an application to remove the historic site from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). It will cost just under $10,000 to prepare an application.