Smoke from the controlled Ridley Island burn June 22-27, 2017. (Nothern View file photo)

Ridley Island burn trial continues, thoroughness of conservationist’s investigation questioned

Prince Rupert Port Authority faces four environmental charges for 2017 fire

The Ridley Island trial continued on Tuesday with defence attorneys questioning the thoroughness of the burn site investigation.

Day 2, June 11, of the trial began with the cross-examination of Crown witness Gareth Scrivner, formerly a conservation officer based in Terrace.

On the first day of the trial, Scrivner presented to the court a video of the aftermath of the Ridley Island fire. The video contained footage of burning piles, which he described as piles of ash as tall as himself — six feet.

“I was perhaps 50-100 feet away [from the piles]. The smell was overpowering, it was very very strong smell of creosote. I don’t think there’s many occasions where I’ve experienced such a strong smell from a large area like that,” Scrivner said Monday, on Day 1 of the trial.

READ MORE: Video of burnt treated materials shown on day one of Prince Rupert Port Authority trial

Scrivner took the video on June 26, 2017 when he was following up on the incident after two residents from Port Edward called in a complaint about the emerging black smoke. He took samples from the fire for evidence in case they needed to be sent for analysis.

At the trial on Tuesday, Matthew Keen, the Port Authority’s defence attorney, asked Scrivner if the levels of creosote and chemicals can be identified by eye or smell.

“Only broadly,” Scrivner replied.

Keen went on to ask if Scrivner investigated the possibility that asphalt paving could have been the source of the smell. Scrivner replied he never followed up during his investigation that asphalt may have caused the smell.

Later during questioning he said he did recall someone mentioning the possibility of paving going on in the district at the time.

READ MORE: Port charged with burying burnt remains of treated wood

A key topic of discussion raised by the defence attorneys was the Ventilation Index, which provides a smoke controlled forecast for open fire burns.

On Day 1 of the trial, four witnesses, who were residing in Port Edward at the time, testified that they were bothered in some way by the heavy black smoke, which they say made its way over to the district. They described a variation of symptoms, such as irritated throats and eyes, and difficulty breathing.

The four witnesses also said they encountered a terrible smell, which some said did not disappear even when they tried to close their windows.

The Port Authority’s open burn policy indicates that they can burn waste if they obtain a Ventilation Index for the City of Prince Rupert and if it indications that conditions will be good for that day and the next.

When asked, Scrivner confirmed that there is no readily available public information regarding Prince Rupert’s forecast. The closest location in Terrace.

According to the smoke control forecast for B.C., issued by Environment Canada on Thursday, June 22, 2017, the burn forecast for Terrace was ranked as “poor” as of 7 a.m. and “good” as of 4 p.m on the first day of the fire.

Scrivner did testify that it is possible to get a custom index by calling meteorologists to interpret Environment Canada’s daily weather data. However, he also confirmed, when asked, that the website does not clearly state where a person or company may receive a custom ventilation index.

Day 2 of the trial ended with Scrivner’s cross examination. Tracy Walbauer, who also examined the site a day after Scrivner was not called to the stand.

At this point in the trial, no evidence was presented regarding asphalt paving going on in Port Edward the same time as the burning on Ridley.

In total, the Port Authority faces four charges under B.C.’s Environmental Management Act for burning treated wood — a five day open fire which took place from June 22-27, 2017. The next trial date is set for Tuesday, June 18 at the provincial courthouse in Prince Rupert.

Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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