TERRACE city council grilled Deputy Fire Chief Dave Jephson on his May trip to view the clean-up efforts of a bitumen spill site on the Kalamzoo river in Michigan at a committee of the whole meeting held yesterday at city hall.
After Jephson’s presentation to council, which included PowerPoint slides provided by Enbridge as well as his own photos, Jephson was asked how the cleanup on a slow-moving river in the U.S. might shed light on a potential spill in the mountains and waterways of B.C.
Jephson told council that Enbridge officials preferred to focus on the Kalamazoo river disaster and not speculate on other clean-up efforts, though he said that in his own estimation it would be entirely different here.
“High flood to them means two feet,” Jephson said about the flooding that made the Michigan spill in 2010 so challenging to deal with. “High flood to us means 40 feet.”
“Clean up here would not go like this,” Jephson went on to say of the Michigan reclamation efforts that were in his opinion mostly successful.
While Jephson showed council evidence of good regrowth and wildlife rebound, councillor James Cordeiro said that with Enbridge responsible for hundreds of spills in recent years, he doesn’t see one successful cleanup as an important victory.
“My issue is not so much with the cleanup but that they have been having to do so many of them,” Cordeiro said. “The best way to mitigate risk is to not take it on in the first place.”
Councillor Brian Downie asked Jephson if the Northern Gateway pipeline would be fashioned differently than the one that ruptured in Michigan. Jephson replied that Enbridge told him new pipes are constructed with multiple plastic coatings which are more durable that the Michigan line built 40 years ago with tar and cloth.
At one point in his presentation to council Jephson showed photos of trees that still had oil stains on their trunks, and councillor Marylin Davies said this seemed particularly relevant to the northwest region and wanted to know more about how a diluted bitumen spill would affect the subsurface over the long term.
Jephson said that the majority of the bitumen was washed downstream and collected from the water in booms, however when it combined with organics much of it took hold on the river bottom and banks, at which point Enbridge knew they had a huge challenge ahead.
“No question this was indeed a disaster,” Jephson said.
Jephson was one of 13 representatives of communities along the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to go on the trip hosted by Enbridge to view the results of their billion dollar, three-year clean-up effort.
He said that he won’t be presenting his material again for the final Joint Review Panel hearings in Terrace that begin on June 17, and no formal recommendation was presented to council on Wednsday.
Terrace city council already voted to oppose the Enbridge Northern Gateway project in February 2012, and was the first municipality in northwestern B.C. to do so. Jephson was chosen by the administration to represent the city on the Michigan trip because of his work experience in emergency response, and because no council members were able to attend.
Editor’s note: This article has been changed from an earlier version.