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School bus company on hook for Fort Creek oil spill cleanup

A contaminated wetland at the edge of Fort Creek has been dug out after an oil spill and replaced with gravel and dirt fill; city says there is no plan to revert site back to a wetland

EDITOR'S NOTE: A version of this article originally appeared on SooToday on Sept. 13. It is being republished here for readers who may have missed it.

First Student bus depot is on the hook for the cost of a months-long cleanup after an oil spill next to its depot near the sensitive Fort Creek ecosystem.

The spill was first reported to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks on April 21 after it was discovered by a neighbour walking along a path through the area, at the time a wetland on city-owned property and the PUC Services power line right-of-way. 

Crews from the City of Sault Ste. Marie immediately began to contain the spill, working through the overnight hours.

Soon after, the site was placed under the control of the ministry and the process to contain and clean up the spill began. More than four months later, the cleanup was complete.

"Work related to the removal of waste oil and contaminated soil from the site by the cleanup contractors was completed by August 30 however, the ministry has yet to receive and review the cleanup report to assess if any further actions are required," said ministry spokesperson Jennifer Hall.

The waste motor oil was seen on April 21 running down the length of the pathway between First Student and Lafarge Canada at the end of Industrial Court A. From there, the black oil pooled in a wetland at the edge of a creek that feeds into Fort Creek.

The source of the spill was determined by the ministry to be a failure of a waste oil containment tank at the nearby First Student school bus depot. A representative from First Student responded to SooToday questions prior to the ministry determining it was the company's fault and has not responded to numerous requests for comment since.

"First Student Bus Lines and their insurance company are responsible for the costs of the cleanup," said Hall. "The ministry is not aware of the details."

Although the company has not responded to questions about the cost of the months-long cleanup, SooToday reached out to the City of Sault Ste. Marie to determine the cost of the containment in the initial hours before the ministry took over. City solicitor Karen Fields said the following expenses have been filed with the insurance company representing First Student:

Labour: $7,437.19
Equipment: $7,956.46
Materials (absorbent pads, boom oil, x-tough sorbent): $3,309.65
PUC Contractor: $753.49
Granular (crushed gravel): $5,335.28
Total: $24,792.07

"To date, we are not aware of any reimbursement received," said Fields.

Soon after the initial response by the city, the site was placed under the care and control of the Ministry of Environment's Spills Action Centre and contractors were hired for the months-long task of remediating the site.

Currently there is dirt and gravel fill where a wetland once stood. Additionally, a portion of a treed area immediately adjacent to First Student had its trees removed and replaced with the same fill.

A number of metal pipes are placed throughout the site, sticking up from the ground in the areas where the spill was.

"The pipes are groundwater monitoring wells that have been installed to confirm that the cleanup has been effective in preventing impacts to local groundwater," said Hall. "Groundwater monitoring will continue until the ministry is satisfied that there are no ongoing impacts due to the spill."

Asked if the site will be returned to its previous state as a wetland, Larry Girardi, deputy CAO Public Works and Engineering said, "remediation is complete and there are no plans for the site."

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Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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