Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for September 13, 2012

White Pass ‘horrified’ by dumping incident

The White Pass and Yukon Route railway has been ordered to pay $100,000 after dumping 24 rail cars’ worth of rocks and sediment into Bennett Lake in 2009.

By Ashley Joannou on September 13, 2012 at 2:27 pm

The White Pass and Yukon Route railway has been ordered to pay $100,000 after dumping 24 rail cars’ worth of rocks and sediment into Bennett Lake in 2009.

In territorial court Wednesday afternoon, the company pleaded guilty to one count of depositing a deleterious subject into water frequented by fish under the Fisheries Act.

White Pass operates a passenger railway service between Carcross and Skagway, Alaska, a portion of which follows the eastern shoreline of Bennett Lake.

The area is subject to chronic erosion which can threaten the stability of the railbed, the court heard.

After some washouts along the track in 2007, the historic railway was in need of some repairs.

Officials with the territorial government and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) expressed concerns about possible damage those repairs were doing to fish habitat in the area.

In October 2008, the company submitted a cleanup plan which showed track repairs could be made without dumping harmful material into the lake.

The regulatory agencies asked for more information which was never received, and no approval was ever given for that plan.

About a year later, two fisheries inspectors conducting a marine parol of the east side of the lake found workers dumping 24 rail cars full of dirt, rock and sediment onto the lakeside and the water, at mile post 41.2 near Bennett City.

Bennett Lake straddles the Yukon-B.C. border, and is among the largest freshwater lakes in northern British Columbia, Judge Richard Thompson heard.

The lake supports populations of lake trout, whitefish, Arctic grayling, northern pike, chinook salmon, burbot, cisco and sculpin.

The earthen material was being dumped from White Pass railcars onto the riparian zone at the water’s edge and into Bennett Lake in an attempt to shore-up and stabilize the steeply sloping, eroded shoreline next to the rail line.

The material totalled approximately 440.4 cubic metres of fill. It included a significant amount of fine sediment (silt, clay and sand) as well as gravel and boulders, according to an agreed statement of facts read into court.

Tests done one metre from the deposit site showed suspended sediment concentration almost 100 times greater than what is permitted under Canadian guidelines.

“While the officers did not observe any dead fish or other indications of harm to the aquatic life in Bennett Lake, the suspended sediment was sufficient to cause direct, acute and chronic harmful effects to the fish and other organisms at different levels of biological production,” said prosecutor Noel Sinclair.

The fact that no harm was seen is not a reason to reduce the fine, he said.

This concentration of sediment can kill Arctic grayling “sac fry” over 24 hours.

As well, it may have impaired the development and survival of northern pike embryos and larvae and reduced prey capture by lake trout and Arctic grayling, according to the agreed statement of facts.

Also, the cloudiness created in the water by the sediment may have affected other aquatic organisms.

The $100,000 fine was recommended by both sides and approved by the judge.

Sinclair argued the hefty fine is warranted because the company knew about possible problems since October 2008 and because of the high volume of material dumped into the water.

For a first offence under the Fisheries Act, the maximum fine is $300,000.

This fine “sends a message to companies and contractors doing work in areas with fish. If you disregard the regulatory process, you are going to be subject to serious fines,” Sinclair said.

White Pass’ lawyer Paul Cassidy said the company was “horrified” by what happened, and that there was a “belief work could be done without harm to Bennett Lake.”

In his decision, Thompson said White Pass had a “heavy responsibility” because it was working so close to the lake.

Most of the fine — $99,000 — has been earmarked for DFO’s Whitehorse field office.

It will be used for projects specifically targeting improvements to fisheries and fish habitat around the Yukon, the judge ruled.

The department has already received a number of proposals for possible projects, Sinclair said.

Nearly a year after the dumping, DFO approved a work plan which would allow for infill work at specific areas along the shore of Lake Bennett, including the site near Bennett City.

The authorization requires White Pass to comply with mitigation measures designed to limit the introduction of sediments into the water during shore stabilization work, the court heard.

No details were provided as to what those measures were.

The company has until Oct. 12 to pay the fine.

CommentsAdd a comment

Just Say'in

Sep 13, 2012 at 3:10 pm

This is crazy! We are sending way too many people to University and filling their heads full of nonsense so they can come back and work for the government. How can you possibly build or maintain a Railroad if you can’t dump gravel and rocks in the water? The whole bottom of the lake is made of that stuff. When we add Rip Rap to the edge of the highway by Muncho Lake does each rock have to be washed placed and blessed by a Tibetan Monk? Where will this crazyness end? When we are all broke? I think so.

johnhenry

Sep 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Think about the water contamination when we get to oil and gas, and mining, if a long term Yukon industry performs like this.

Sky bird

Sep 13, 2012 at 3:49 pm

No dead fish were observed suggests fish successfully moved away from the dumping site or were not in that particular area.

Is this infraction part of the overlyprotective dogma that DFO follows?

Are cases like this why the Harper government is removing habitat protection from the fisheries act?

Most anglers who live in the Yukon know salmon in Bennett Lake is likely partially historical fact and for many recent decades wishful thinking.

After all is said and done DFO was doing their job and Whitepass should have thought things through a little more. The fine seems excessive unless it will be directed towards a conservation effort.

Thomas Brewer

Sep 13, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Just part of the cost of doing business in a heavily regulated Canada.

north_of_60

Sep 13, 2012 at 7:13 pm

The WP&YR; couldn’t be built under today’s regulations.

Jon Calon

Sep 13, 2012 at 8:49 pm

I believe I witnessed the dumping in action, and can attest to the fact the rail line would’ve been shut if anything further had slid into Lake Bennett - not much on the outside of the ties was there.

The question needs to be asked:

Who gets the fine if there’s an actual land slide not brought on by human activity which causes as much, if not more, damage to the lake?

Jon Calon
Calgary, AB

Just Dirt

Sep 13, 2012 at 9:13 pm

So in affect wasn’t what White Pass did the exact same thing as when a natural landslide runs out into a lake or stream? Dirt, sediment,rocks, trees all end up in bodies of water on a fairly regular basis over the centuries just as a natural part of nature and erosion. Who does DFO sue then,Mother Nature?

jack

Sep 14, 2012 at 3:29 am

outrageous…landlsides into the lake of much greater scale happen all the time….good grief!

jeff blackburn

Sep 14, 2012 at 1:32 pm

The government steps in to justify it’s existence and handicaps local business….great. This happens in nature all the time…no biggie.

Cecil Daniel Lane

Sep 14, 2012 at 1:33 pm

It is unfortunate that the WPYR had to pay a fine for repairing the roadbed.  It is also unfortunate that landslides, etc. to exactly the same thing and at times even worse.  No “Mother Nature” nor “God” will have to pay a fine but - the WPYR - did know there are “environmental laws” for the U.S. and for Canada and laws are meant to be obeyed not ignored.  It is true that the WPYR could not be built under today’s environmental laws, at least not the way it was built in the beginning.  I am no “environmental nutcase” that thinks every bug and weed in the world needs to be saved, but existing laws should be followed until such time as they are changed by the majority of the people - in either country!  $100,000 to the WPYR would seem to me to be less than a weeks intake from the tourist trade.  I may be wrong but it seems logical.  The company, according to the article, did submit a repair plan but appears to not have followed up on it.  I am an avid WPYR Fan but even they can’t do whatever the heck they want to do when it suits them.

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