The City of Port Alberni believes that a valve on a rail tank car that caused an oil spill at McLean Mill last week was intentionally opened, although the case is still under investigation.
The city is still cleaning up after a rail tank car was found to be leaking bunker oil in the rail yard at McLean Mill National Historic Site. Sometime prior to Oct. 26, the valve on the rail tank car was opened, releasing a “significant amount” of Bunker C oil onto the ground, according to City CAO Tim Pley.
“We believe the valve to have been opened intentionally,” said Pley during a council meeting on Monday, Nov. 9. “We’re not sure what the intent was. We’re told the valve was in a closed position, possibly even locked with a chain. It’s quite concerning that the incident occurred.”
McLean Mill has a live-in caretaker, but no security cameras in that portion of the site.
“If anybody has seen anything or heard anything, I encourage them to call the RCMP,” said Pley.
Play added that the city doesn’t know how much oil was in the tank, but believed it to be “several thousand” litres.
The city responded “quickly” to stop the growth and spread of the leak, and hired multiple contractors and consultants to clean up the spill, said Pley. The city has also initiated an insurance claim and is “hopeful” that the costs of clean up will be recovered.
The costs are expected to be in excess of $100,000, said Pley.
“We think we’re putting in between $20,000 and $30,000 a day,” he added.
The rail tank car, which was located on a rail siding near the eastern property boundary, was storing fuel for the No. 7 steam engine, although the steam engine has not been operating for the past two years.
Over the past few years, said Pley, the city has been working to identify hazards on the mill site and mitigate them. In 2019, TerraWest Environmental Ltd. conducted an environmental review of the site under direction of the city. Pley said that the city specifically asked TerraWest to look at the rail tank car because of some “staining” that was observed beneath the car, although this was unrelated to the spill discovered on Oct. 26. Pley added that there had been a catchment tray underneath the rail car, used by operators to control any dripping or spillage, which may have been where this staining came from.
Councillor Ron Corbeil asked on Monday if there are any other hazards on the site. Pley confirmed that another rail tank, located closer to the mill, was also identified in the TerraWest assessment.
“We are right now undertaking prices to see what it would cost to have that tanker removed from the site as well,” he said.
“The mill site is, in my opinion, a lot safer and in better condition this year than it was this time last year,” said Pley. “But obviously we did not act to mitigate this risk, and now we’re responding to this incident.
“I think this maybe causes us to look at all our properties, not just McLean Mill, and identify what are some of the risks that we are continuing to be responsible for. We can put our minds to mitigating those risks proactively.”
Mayor Sharie Minions said it was “disappointing” to hear that the valve had been opened.
“Whether that’s carelessness, with somebody not closing it after, or intention, this is money that we all end up paying as city taxpayers,” said Minions.