The B.C. Ministry of Environment has laid four charges against the Prince Rupert Port Authority for burning treated wood for five days on Ridley Island in June 2017.
While the charges were sworn in on July 4, the pre-trial conference is set to take place at the Prince Rupert courthouse on Dec. 19.
The complaint was made to the Terrace Conservation Office on June 26, 2017 after residents in Port Edward raised concerns about black smoke drifting over their community. Officer Tracy Walbauer said the investigation lasted until Aug. 1 after which Crown counsel reviewed the evidence, deciding whether or not to lay charges.
The maximum fine for the first two charges under the Environmental Management Act could be up to $1-million each. The first charge states the port authority “unlawfully introduced” waste or air contaminates by burning prohibited materials for five days, between June 22-27.
The second charge states that between June 26-27 the port authority unlawfully “introduced waste into the environment by burying the burnt remains of the ‘Odin’ dock and other burnt waste that was produced by a prescribed activity.”
The 80-year-old dock being burned may have been exposed to creosote, a toxic chemical used to prevent wood from rotting.
“Creosote is kind of like asbestos, it was a good idea at the time but very difficult to dispose of safely. More environmental regulations have come in to take into account that you can’t just dispose of it, you can’t bury it, you can’t burn it, there isn’t a good option for dealing with it either,” said Annie Booth, curriculum chair of environmental and sustainability studies at the University of Northern B.C.
Booth said it’s fairly expensive to dispose of the hazardous waste. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, it’s toxic to breathe in and long exposures can cause respiratory irritation. If creosote is buried it can leach into the soil.
“Any place you have soil and it rains, creosote will go into the soil and it will probably reach the water table,” Booth said.
The other two charges relate to violations of B.C.’s open burning smoke control regulations. One, treated lumber — a prohibited material — was burned, and two, the smoke release period exceeded 72-consecutive hours.
The Prince Rupert Port Authority apologized in July 2017 for how it handled the Ridley fire. In response to the charges the port authority stated: “The burn included material which was erroneously classified as organic. PRPA has acknowledged and apologized publicly to the community for its error. Following the identification of the error, PRPA has worked with the BC Ministry of Environment to conduct an investigation. The Ministry has elected to pursue charges related to this incident.”
The port authority, DP World and partners involved in the Fairview Terminal expansion project are also facing 10 fisheries violations for work carried out between 2014-2015 that caused serious harm to fish.