CN pledges $250,000 to repair Cheakamus damage 

Public open house planned for Sept. 14

CN Rail made good on its promise to help repair the ecology of the Cheakamus River after an Aug. 5 train derailment in the upper Cheakamus Canyon leaked more 40,000 litres of caustic Sodium Hydroxide into the river system.

The spill killed approximately 90 per cent of all aquatic life in the river in the water column downstream of the accident, including insects, invertebrates, resident fish, and migrating fish of all ages and species. A more exact assessment of the spill’s impact will be completed for a Sept. 14 public meeting at the North Vancouver Outdoor School.

CN Rail has announced $250,000 in seed funding to the Pacific Salmon Foundation to help them implement the finalized Squamish Watershed Salmon Recovery Plan.

The plan was put together after three years of study and consultation and presented on Aug. 17 – the originally scheduled date which did not anticipate the Cheakamus spill.

However, elements of the plan apply directly to the Cheakamus River, which was already considered threatened before the derailment and ensuing fish kill.

"I’m here to let you know that we are here for the long term," said CN senior vice president Peter Marshall. "We are looking to jumpstart the program. This is not a short-term fix."

In addition to the seed funding, CN has committed to support the PSF for five years, while also assuming responsibility for other cleanup and remediation costs for the river. Most biologists agree that it will take at least a decade, and maybe twice as long, for fish populations to recover – even with stocking programs and human intervention.

Steelhead, a species already considered at risk, were particularly hard hit with up to three years of young fish killed by the spill.

InStream Fisheries research, one of the organizations taking part in the remediation studies, made a list of species and rated on a scale of one to 10 (no effect to a loss of about 90 per cent of the population) how they were effected.

1. Chum juveniles, Chum adults

2. Chinook juveniles, fall 2004 brood year

3. Coho juveniles, fall 2004 brood year

6. Chinook returning adults; Pink returning adults

8. Steelhead juveniles, spring 2003 brood year

9. Steelhead juveniles, spring 2005 brood year

10. Resident rainbow (juvenile through adult); cottid; Steelhead juveniles, spring 2004 brood year.

The impact of the spill is not yet known on resident lamprey, dolly varden and bull trout.

Total costs are impossible to judge at this point, but will likely be in the tens of millions.

The rail company is also reimbursing individuals and companies that were impacted economically by the spill, such as rafting companies that were kept off the water for two days for safety reasons.

The Sept. 14 open house on the status of the river will include plans for remediation being made by a task force created in the wake of the spill. The task force includes representatives from the provincial Ministry of Environment, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Squamish First Nation, CN Rail, and other agencies, and reports directly to stakeholders like the North Vancouver Outdoor School.

The cause of the derailment is still under investigation by both CN Rail and the provincial Ministry of Transportation. No fault has been found with the track, and investigators are looking at the black box recorder from the train for clues.

Meanwhile the province has imposed an angling ban on the Cheakamus River, the Squamish River downstream of where it converges with the Cheakamus, and on the Mamquam River. Although the Mamquam wasn’t directly affected by the spill, the river might be used to collect species to restock the Cheakamus.

The angling ban expires on Sept. 30, but will likely be extended, possibly for years. Even after the river is reopened to anglers, further bans can be expected down the road to protect spawning groups in years that were impacted by the spill.

Clarification

In a past article sodium hydroxide was referred to as ‘acidic’ when in fact it is rated as ‘basic’ on the pH/pOH scale. Undiluted sodium hydroxide falls on the far end of the basic spectrum, similar to powerful degreasers like oven cleaners. It also doesn’t break down with exposure to water or air, but can be diluted. It also gives off heat as it is dissolved in water.

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