Technical Safety BC has “zero tolerance” for ammonia leaks in arenas after three people died in Fernie in 2017. That’s why they are being cautious about the low-level leak that was discovered at the Alberni Valley Multiplex in early November, says Paige Hill, TSBC’s regional business leader for Vancouver Island.
“We have a zero tolerance for leaks. I know we can be challenged on that,” said Hill, who has been dealing with the Multiplex closure for TSBC. “Our collective goal is to ensure public safety.”
The City of Port Alberni and TSBC are taking criticism for the length of the closure, which started Nov. 3. Late Friday, Nov. 15, the TSBC issued a notice that the facility will be closed until further notice. The city has to satisfy a number of safety items before TSBC will allow them to reopen the Multiplex, Hill said.
The manufacturer of the ice refrigeration plant, Isotherm Inc., will be sending a representative to Port Alberni on Wednesday, Nov. 20 to examine the unit. The timing to reopen the facility now rests with the contractors, Hill said.
The closure has forced cancellation of several minor hockey tournaments, figure skating practices and the postponement or relocation of several Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ B.C. Hockey League games. Whether or not the annual Winter Wonderland skating festival will have to be cancelled to help rink users make up lost time remains in doubt.
This is not lost on Hill, who has close ties to Port Alberni. “I fully understand the enormity of what’s going on,” he said.
“I have an appreciation for the community of Port Alberni and its hardships over the years. We’re empathetic to what’s going on; we understand the revenue loss here.
“At the end of the day, safety oversight has to take precedence. Fernie taught us this.”
Three people died at an arena in Fernie, B.C. in 2017 after they were overcome by toxic fumes, which happened when their ice plant failed, causing a massive ammonia leak.
The leak at the AV Multiplex was nowhere near the same, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Tim Pley said. When the leak was discovered, the user group at the rink at the time was permitted to finish their activity before the facility was closed.
“It seems like we’re changing the goal posts, but we’re not,” Hill said.
“The learning from our collective experience is going to pay forward to other communities,” Hill said. “There will be a formal debrief on this and we will have formal recommendations just like we did from Fernie. There will be some further recommendations coming out of this to the industry at large.
“I’m just glad this didn’t turn into a Fernie.”
Acuren Industrial Services’ metallurgic engineers performed a fit-for-service test on the welded repair but not the rest of the unit, “although non-destructive testing indicated that there were no issues with other welds,” Pley said.
Hill said TSBC clarified that they wanted a fit-for-service test of the whole ammonia system, or chiller. The manufacturer is also going to examine the entire installation of the ice plant, because they have some questions too, he said.
“More information coming in is showing there is a deeper issue here.”
Hill said TSBC has asked the manufacturer, which is from Arlington, Texas, for a list of other ice plants they have sold. “We want a list of other chillers in B.C. and Canada.”
“When we get this thing back up and running, we’re going to be better as a community because we’ve learned something,” Hill said.