Columbia Fuels remimburses drivers burdened by Malahat closure

Drivers trapped on either side of the Malahat Drive following Saturday’s fuel truck crash will be compensated for their trouble.

Columbia Fuels will reimburse expenses – such as meals, ferry travel or hotel stays – incurred as a result of 22-hour highway closure that began Saturday at 6 p.m. when a fuel truck crashed into a rock wall spilling nearly 42,000 litres of gasoline and 600 litres of diesel fuel from its b-train load.

Allan Willms, director of operations with Columbia Fuels, said Wednesday that over 180 people had called or emailed in requests for reimbursements. Complainants will be asked to return claim forms with receipts attached.

“An objective third party will look over the claim to see if it’s a legitimate expense, then we’ll be cutting the cheques,” Willms explained.

Drivers on the highway at the time of the crash were initially told the road would re-open in three hours. That grave misestimate led to many complaints and prompted Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom to order a review into how messages are communicated to motorists.

Some drivers found detour routes through Highlands or took the Mill Bay ferry around the troubled stretch, but only those familiar with the area would know of those options.

“If there are ways to improve on how this scenario was handled during this accident, we’re going to do that through this review,” Lekstrom told reporters Tuesday.

The report, expected May 13, will deal with both improvements to the route and procedures for dealing with major accidents.

The crash happened on a narrow and sinuous stretch of the Malahat Drive just South of the Goldstream Park entrance and is believed to be the result of driver error by an allegedly drunk Columbia Fuels employee, who’d worked for the company for seven months.

“We can never anticipate something like this happening,” Willms said, noting it’s the first significant fuel spill the company has ever dealt with.

“We’re taking full responsibility for the crash, and will pay the full cost associated with cleanup, remediation and follow up,” Willms said, declining to estimate how much the company expected to spend.

The fuel company hired Quantum Engineering and Burrard Clean Operations clean and monitor land and waterways hit by the fuel spill. They were scheduled to work in and around Goldstream Park until Wednesday. The highway was restricted to single lane traffic daily, except during rush hour, for the cleanup.

The B.C. Ministry of Environment has been monitoring the cleanup, along with members of Tsawout First Nation. Both have reported finding thousands of dead salmon fry and smolts as a result of the spill.

Ministry staff say much of the gas that flowed into the Goldstream River evaporated within 18 hours, though traces remained around rocks on the riverbed. Soil near the spill site had to be dug up and hauled away, then replaced with uncontaminated dirt.

“We’re meeting with stakeholders to ensure they’re satisfied with what we’ve done,” Willms said.

West Shore RCMP are handling the investigation into the 33-year-old truck driver from Nanaimo.

He was brought to Victoria General Hospital after the crash, where he was arrested for suspicion of impaired driving. He is also being investigated for assaulting a police officer at the time of his arrest.

He was released from police custody Sunday on a Promise to Appear on June 16.

To request a claim form for expenses resulting from the highway closure on the evening of April 16, email malahat@columbiafuels.com or call 250-391-3611.

—Files from Tom Fletcher

editor@saanichnews.com

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