One of the city’s street sweepers cleans out the old ice from the Alberni Valley Multiplex. FACEBOOK PHOTO / CITY OF PORT ALBERNI LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Technical Safety BC says Alberni Valley Multiplex chiller safe to operate

Few conditions left for city to meet before making ice

Technical Safety B.C. has given the go-ahead for the City of Port Alberni to fire up the ice refrigeration plant at the Alberni Valley Multiplex—as soon as a couple more conditions are met.

A representative from TSBC met with city officials, contractor Accent Refrigeration and Isotherm, the original manufacturer of the ice chiller, on Wednesday, Nov. 20. The group of stakeholders assessed the chiller and the repaired welds “to better understand the nature of the failure, the repair, and any necessary instructions or testing for continued safe operation,” the TSBC statement noted.

READ: Port Alberni cools its heels over ice plant, waits for manufacturer to arrive

Following that meeting, TSBC issued a statement saying the chiller is safe, but they want an operational plan in place before it’s fired up. A new certificate of inspection has been issued to the City of Port Alberni that will enable the Alberni Valley Multiplex to resume ice-making activities a quickly as possible, once the conditions are met.

“We have provided a clear path for how the multiplex can get to a place where they can re-energize the plant,” said Phil Gothe, vice-president, operations and client experience for TSBC.

The conditions on the certificate of inspection include written assurance from the manufacturer that the chiller is ready to go, and a plan of action on how the ice plant will be monitored.

“We’re asking for a plan of how they’re going to monitor the (ice) plant in the immediate term under operating conditions…to make sure there are no further leaks and that the repairs are satisfactory,” Gothe said. The plan must also include monitoring under operation “for the next foreseeable future. My understanding is it’s not forever; it’s for the immediate future to provide assurance…that there are no new leaks that spring up.”

Once those conditions are met, TSBC will lift the safety order “and the plant can be re-energized to make ice again.”

Gothe said the timeline for that will now depend on the City of Port Alberni and how quickly they can get the paperwork in order.

“We are working very hard to try and get the facility going again,” he added. “No one’s trying to be heavy. Issuing a safety order…is a big decision. It’s something we take great care in making; the impact of that decision is not lost on us by any means,” he said.

“We have been working pretty much continuously since the safety order was issued Nov. 6.”

The issue has been the fact the ice refrigeration plant was a new piece of equipment that suddenly sprung an ammonia leak, and more fissures were discovered after the initial repair. “It’s reasonable on our side as representatives for safety of the people in B.C. to say how does this happen? We’re trying to gain some understanding of why this has happened.

“We need to work toward some understanding of what’s going on. That’s part of the delay, and that forms part of what we’re asking post-repair that there is some assurance from the manufacturer.”

Gothe said the fatalities that happened in 2017 after a large ammonia leak in an arena in Fernie are driving the investigation into the Alberni Valley Multiplex leak.

“We’ve learned a lot in this province about ammonia,” he said. “I don’t think we understood the hazard of ammonia until after Fernie.”

The TSBC is an independent regulator with a mandate to oversee the safe installation and operation of technical equipment in the province.

The City of Port Alberni is hoping the process will be completed in a matter of days, and that TSBC will rescind the Nov. 6 order so they can fire up the ice plant.

“We are cautiously optimistic that city staff will have the go-ahead from Technical Safety BC to start ice production at the Multiplex within days,” said Willa Thorpe, city director of Parks, Recreation and Heritage.

“As Port Alberni’s governing body, we greatly appreciate the patience, support and understanding shown by the community throughout this trying time and look forward to announcing happier news in the days to come,” CAO Tim Pley noted in a media release.

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