Source of fuel spill in Gorge Creek still unknown

Investigators are still trying to determine the source of a fuel spill that’s contaminating ecologically sensitive Gorge Creek in Esquimalt.

The township was alerted Saturday by the Ministry of Environment after a resident called the provincial hotline to report an unidentified spill in the tidal creek, which runs beside Esquimalt Gorge Park and flows into the Gorge Waterway.

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Esquimalt said Monday that its investigation of outflow points from neighbouring residential areas found no evidence that the spill came through township pipes.

“We don’t think it’s coming from the Esquimalt side,” Jeff Miller, Esquimalt’s director of engineering and public works, said in an interview.

“We think it’s coming from out of the Gorge, but where it entered the Gorge we have no idea.

“We’re working with the Ministry of Environment to try to determine where that source is.”

The ministry said in a statement Monday that a sheen was present at two outfalls along Craigflower Road.

“The outfalls are connected and one source is anticipated,” the statement said.

Esquimalt has deployed a series of booms and absorbent pads at the outfalls and along Gorge Creek to contain and capture the spill.

“One of our challenges is that that creek is a tidal creek, so our measures have to somehow work around the differences in elevation as the water goes up and down,” Miller said.

“So that’s proving to be a bit of a challenge, but we’re meeting it.”

Investigators have yet to determine whether the spill material is kerosene, heating fuel or some other type of hydrocarbon.

But the smell of fuel permeated the air all along the creek Monday and alarmed those who keep a watchful eye on the sensitive watershed.

Dorothy Chambers of Salmon in the City said the creek is a migratory bird sanctuary and home to Coho salmon, sea-run cutthroat trout and herring.

“When you add hydrocarbons into the mix, you are contaminating all the marine and the shoreline plants,” she said, adding that she wants to see a full investigation.

“Is it oil? Is it diesel? They need to do sampling to determine where this is coming from.”

Esquimalt issued a statement late Monday reiterating that finding the spill’s source is a top priority “due to the sensitive nature of the area.”

The Canadian Coast Guard, meanwhile, has ruled out a connection between the spill and a sinking boat in the Gorge Waterway.

“The source of the oil spill in the Gorge waterway is land-based and not from the sinking vessel near the Selkirk bridge,” the agency said in a statement on Monday.

The Coast Guard said its officers assessed the sinking vessel and determined there were no hydrocarbons aboard and that it was not at risk of polluting the waterway.

The agency added that, under Canadian law, the boat’s owner is responsible for all costs, including salvage.

Esquimalt reminded people Monday to refrain from dumping chemicals or other materials into catch basis and drains that empty into the region’s waterways.

“Storm drains are for storm water not other materials,” Miller said.

“They need to be disposed of in a proper and safe manner, because when you don’t, storm drains always end up in a water-receiving body like the Gorge or West Bay.

“It’s easier to deal with it at the source and that means disposing of it properly rather than putting it down a storm drain.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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