Air North agrees to accept responsibility and pay after spill in Old Crow

Air North has agreed to a string of conditions to avoid a possible conviction under the Fisheries Act after 1,100 litres of diesel was spilled in Old Crow more than two years ago.

Air North has agreed to a string of conditions to avoid a possible conviction under the Fisheries Act after 1,100 litres of diesel was spilled in Old Crow more than two years ago.

The company has agreed to pay $40,000 to a federal environmental damage fund, do about $40,000 worth of work to remove contaminated material from Old Crow, and finish any remaining cleanup work.

It will also publish an article in the inflight magazine Yukon, North of Ordinary describing what happened and taking responsibility. A second article will discuss the benefits of environmental protection, regulation and remediation.

If that’s completed by Sept. 22, the charge that’s currently before the judge will be stayed.

A territorial court judge approved the deal — which was agreed to by both the airline and the Crown — Feb. 23.

Air North was charged with one count of depositing a substance that could have entered fish-bearing waters.

According to an agreed statement of facts filed in court, in September 2014 an Air North flight was dropping off fuel in Old Crow when the cargo was accidentally connected to the wrong storage tank.

“As a result of the breakdown in communications between the Air North crew and the (Vuntut Gwich’in First Nation) gas attendant, who normally meets the aircraft and supervises the offloading of fuel at the receiving (tank) end, this hose was not moved to the correct standpipe,” the document says.

Instead of flowing into an empty tank, the fuel was sent to a tank that was already full. That caused the already full tank to overflow.

When the over filling of the tank was noticed the flight crew turned off the transfer pump. Officials estimate 1,100 liters of diesel fuel was spilled.

At the time of the spill the fuel storage facility in Old Crow was located between the airport and the Porcupine River.

The spill was contained and there was no threat of contaminating the river, the document says.

But it’s illegal to spill anything that “may” contaminate fish-bearing waters even if that contamination doesn’t actually make it to the water.

The First Nation has been managing the clean-up process since the spill. Air North has reimbursed Vuntut Gwich’in nearly $100,000 in clean-up costs so far.

The cleanup is not finished. According to the court documents, Environment Yukon wanted the tank that had overflowed decommissioned and removed so the soil underneath could be hauled away.

Although a new storage facility has been built at a different location in Old Crow, the tank in question, along with others at the old site, are still being used, according to the agreed statement of facts.

“In its talks to date with representatives of VGFN, Air North has been advised that VGFN, as the owner of the old tank farm, will not consent to Air North carrying out further remediation work related to the fuel spill until the old tank farm is decommissioned.”

There are six totes of contaminated materials from the spill site still in Old Crow. Air North has agreed to ship a total of 46 totes out of Old Crow that contain other contaminated material.

The $40,000 going to the Environmental Damages Fund will be spent on environment restoration or education and awareness in the Yukon, preferably in the northern part of the territory.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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