With only days to spare, the provincial government has laid charges against CN Rail for the 2005 Cheakamus train derailment.
On Aug. 5, 2005, nine cars derailed, sending 40,000 litres of caustic soda into the Cheakamus River and killing over 500,000 fish.
A review released by the Transportation Safety Board last month found that improper training, faulty technology and incorrect assembly of the train led to the accident.
“I said at the outset that we were very distressed at the derailment and spill and that CN could be facing significant consequences if they were charged and convicted,” said B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner.
CN is being charged with two counts of depositing substances that are harmful to fish under the federal Fisheries Act. The maximum penalty for each charge is a fine of $300,000.
The two-year statute of limitations on filing charges under the Fisheries Act was Aug. 5.
At a provincial level, CN will face three counts of violating the Environmental Management Act: for introducing waste produced by a prescribed industry, introducing waste and causing pollution, and introducing a business waste. Each count carries a maximum $1 million penalty.
Ian Sutherland, mayor of Squamish, said he felt that the two senior levels of government were in the best position to investigate the 2005 accident.
“Certainly they have the expertise and the manpower and the resources to pursue a course of action, and they’ve done that,” said Sutherland.
“… We were always quite confident that the federal government and provincial government would do what needed to be done in the best interests of the people who live here.”
After the spill, community members and local government has worked with CN to restore the river to health.
“The province has been invoicing on our costs that we’ve incurred and we’ve been doing that on an interim basis,” said Penner.
“To date, we have invoiced CN for more than $200,000 as part of our recovery effort to help restore the river.”
But Penner emphasized that invoiced costs are over and above the possible fines CN now faces, if convicted.
The investigation was launched shortly after the accident, and was conducted by B.C. Conservation and Environment Canada officials.
Penner didn’t know why investigators waited until late last week to lay charges.
“I kept asking investigators how they were making out, and I was told the investigation will take as long as it takes to do a thorough and complete investigation,” said Penner.
Sutherland said he wasn’t concerned about the looming deadline.
“We knew that they were working on things and they were well aware of the deadline… so we were fairly confident that at the end of the day they would make the best decision.”
Penner said he suspects the TSB’s recent report was taken into consideration by investigators, but doesn’t know how much weight the report held in their decision-making process.
“The good news is the river has been recovering quicker than many people had feared, but obviously we’re still very unhappy at the chemical spill that killed 500,000 fish,” said Penner.
Calls to CN were not returned in time for publication, but officials had declined comment to other publications, saying it would be inappropriate to discuss a matter that is currently before the courts.
CN representatives are scheduled to appear in North Vancouver provincial court on Oct. 3 where all five charges will be formally introduced.