Thousands of juvenile chum and coho are showing up dead in the Goldstream River in the wake of tanker truck that crashed and spilled gasoline into the river Saturday night.
Tswaout First Nations fisheries manager Dan Claxton walked the northern section of the river near the estuary Sunday and said its likely thousands of emerging chum fry and coho smolts have perished.
“There are literally hundreds and hundreds of dead fish in the lower end of the river,” Claxton said Monday morning. “It’s just devastating to see that many fish gone. If you look under the banks and logs, there are lots of dead fish.”
Tswaout members and Goldstream hatchery volunteers had released 8,000 coho smolts in Goldstream River Saturday morning, which Claxton suspects would have been moving through the section of river when it was flooded with an estimated 30,000 litres of gasoline.
“A lot (of fish) are showing up dead. Everything is coming out of the gravel,” said hatcher manger Peter McCully.
Gasoline gushed into Goldstream River Saturday night after a Columbia Fuels b-train tanker crashed into a rock wall and overturned on the Malahat Drive near Goldstream Provincial Park.
West Shore RCMP arrested the driver, a 33-year-old Nanaimo man, Saturday night at Victoria General Hospital on suspicion of impaired driving. He suffered minor injuries in the single-vehicle crash was released from custody at the detachment Sunday.
“Alcohol is definitely a factor,” said Cpl. Scott Braes with West Shore RCMP. “But there’s still a lot of work to be done before we have a charge.”
Ministry of Environment officials estimate 30,000 litres of gasoline spilled into Goldstream River, a prolific and pristine salmon spawning stream that empties into Finlayson Arm. The fuel truck was also hauling diesel, which officials say did not escape the tanks.
The southbound truck crashed and rolled around 6 p.m. Saturday, a few hundred metres south of the Goldstream park entrance and about 10 metres from Goldstream River. Fuel spilled from a wide gash in the tank into a ditch on the west side of the Malahat Drive, and flowed through a culvert directly into the river.
The Malahat Drive remained closed overnight and well into Sunday as the remaining fuel in the tanks was siphoned into another tanker, while West Shore firefighters kept the vehicle doused in foam to suppress volatile gasoline fumes.
The heavy smell of gasoline saturated the normally cool air of Goldstream park Sunday morning as crews slowly and methodically removed pieces of the truck’s drive train in preparation for hoisting the sections upright.
At the same time, environmental officials from the federal and provincial governments and private environmental contractors scoured the river and estuary seeking signs of habitat damage or signs of sick or injured wildlife. A Ministry of Transportation aircraft made overpasses of Finlayson Arm Sunday morning to watch for a fuel slick.
B.C. Ministry of Environment emergency response officer Alex Grant said the majority of the gasoline should evaporate within 18 hours, based on the volume estimate.
“That’s what we are expecting and we are going to confirm that by going out on the water,” Grant said. “Good news is gasoline floats … there is a very good flushing action with the Goldstream River. The vast majority (of fuel) will stay on the water and carry out to Finlayson Arm where it will evaporate.
“What continues from here is an assessment of where the fuel went. We are taking this seriously. We don’t want to see fuel getting out into the environment.”
Allan Willms, director of operations with Columbia Fuels, said the driver was hired last September and went through a standard development regime, working his way up from short haul trucks to a truck and trailer to b-train runs.
Willms said Columbia Fuels has hired several environmental response firms to monitor if the fuel is killing fish or otherwise impacting wildlife and park habitat. As of Sunday morning, “they have been up and down the stream and have found no adverse effects from what we have been told,” Willms said.
A crane crew spent much of Sunday working to right the tanks and truck cab, which was crumpled and embedded in the canyon rock wall. Fire crews kept the crash scene soaked in foam to provide a measure of safety during the delicate operation to hoist the tanks without igniting residual gasoline vapors.
To make the operation more difficult and dangerous, pounding rain, followed by pounding hail the size of marbles, fell over Langford around noon.
Langford emergency social services volunteers set up a comfort centre at the Langford Legion last night for drivers trapped south of the Malahat. One person made use of the centre.
The Vancouver Island criminal crash investigation team, RCMP South Island traffic services and the integrated collision and re-constructionist section are leading the criminal investigation into the crash.
B.C. Ambulance, fire crews from Langford, Colwood, Highlands and Sooke, West Shore RCMP, Mainroad South Island Contracting and a number of government environmental and hazardous materials response agencies were on scene overnight.
— Edward Hill, Goldstream News Gazette