A Watson Lake family continues to seek answers about how its well became contaminated. But the Yukon government is refusing to share what it knows, on the grounds that it may end up embroiled in a lawsuit over the matter.
Sonja and Thomas Rueck recently filed a request under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, asking the Department of Environment for information about the spill order that was served last year on the property adjacent to theirs.
The government has maintained that it can’t help the Ruecks until an investigation into the spill order is completed. There is no deadline for that investigation to wrap up.
The Ruecks allege their well water was contaminated by their neighbour, who performed a crushing operation on the property, leaving pools of oil and various mechanical debris strewn across the land. Their water is now unusable, with hydrocarbons surfacing in laboratory tests and a strong oily smell and taste emanating from it.
The request was refused on the grounds that the case could end up in court or before an adjudicative body.
“Whenever we try to get any information, they ignore us,” said Sonja Rueck. “What are they trying to hide?”
The Ruecks also continue to seek answers from the municipality.
In June, the family asked to speak with Watson Lake Mayor Richard Durocher and council during a town council meeting. That request was denied.
The Ruecks said they then sent an email to each of the town’s four councillors, asking to speak at the next meeting, but no one responded.
Further inquires to Yukon’s Department of Community Services and the government’s inquiry desk have also gone unanswered.
Kate White, the NDP’s MLA for Takhini-Kopper King, sent two letters to the Minister of Environment, which have also received no response.
“In our opinion, the Town of Watson Lake together with Environment Yukon are responsible for the pollution of our well,” the Ruecks wrote in a letter.
“Both neglected their duties/responsibilities and their legal obligations. The town and Environment Yukon knew about the illegal use of the adjacent public land and they knew about the ongoing pollution for years. We can prove this fact because we sent several letters, all by registered mail.”
The Ruecks question whether or not the spill order issued by Environment Yukon on the adjacent property was enforced, in any measure.
“I think they are trying to hide that they didn’t do a thing,” said Sonja Rueck.
“They tell us they want to prove where the contamination comes from, but they are doing nothing. They don’t take soil samples or water samples. It’s the adjacent property, if there was something going we would see that.”
Watson Lake CAO Stephen Conway said he offered to the meet with Ruecks, but that the meeting was refused. The Ruecks disagree with that account.
They say they met with Conway, but no help was offered, only an opportunity to join in the recent lawsuit levied against the Yukon government by the Town of Watson Lake and Liard First Nation about environmental abuses in the area.
That offer was a way for the town to shirk responsibility, the Ruecks said.
“They tried to get us to join them but then we couldn’t blame the town anymore. They have a partial responsibility. We said no, we don’t want to do that because the issue the town has with Environment is different.”
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