[UPDATED] Sensitive habitat coated in coal dust

Saturday's train derailment left coal chunks and dust in Burnaby's Silver Creek

The banks of Burnaby’s Silver Creek were coated in black Monday morning, after a weekend train derailment left unknown quantities of coal dust in the local waterway. The spill is raising concerns for Burnaby streamkeepers, as the creek is considered sensitive habitat. 

Alan James of the Stoney Creek Environment Committee and the Burnaby NOW set out Monday to comb the banks of Silver Creek, assessing the damage.

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James said the spill could be a test case for the Fisheries Act, which was amended by the federal Conservatives in 2012.

“The new Fisheries Act took away protection of habitat and replaced it, as I understand it, with regulations against serious harm to fish, the kind of fish that are either commercial or native or recreational,” James said. “This creek has fish in it. It’s definitely recreational because people fish in the Brunette, so it will be interesting to see how vigorously Fisheries and Oceans pursues this.”
Silver Creek runs beneath the railway tracks and then parallel to Government Street and the railway line. It connects to the east end of Burnaby Lake, which is also the start of the Brunette River.

The tracks gave out Saturday morning after heavy rains washed out a nearby beaver dam, and three coal cars tipped over, spilling coal into the water.

The NOW observed blackened riverbanks upstream and downstream from the nesting area for the endangered Western painted turtle, and James pointed out that the lower portions of the Brunette are habitat for the Nooksack dace, a small endangered minnow found in only a few areas of the province. Black silt and large chunks of coal were spotted throughout the creek, which is home to spawning coho and chum, as well as cutthroat trout.

An employee from the City of Burnaby was also combing the banks of Silver Creek taking photos, but she did not want to comment.

The provincial Environment Ministry was onsite over the weekend, helping CN Railway, which is responsible for cleaning up the mess. According to the ministry, CN is developing plans for remediation and long-term monitoring.

The NOW was told the ministry’s oversight has decreased as CN’s work will be focused with the City of Burnaby and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the federal agency responsible for protecting fish, take over.

UPDATE: When the NOW contacted Fisheries and Oceans, we were told the agency was not involved, had no one onsite, and to contact Environment Canada instead. Danny Kingsberry, a media spokesperson, for Environment Canada told the NOW that the "enforcement branch is monitoring the situation and gathering information to determine if any contravention of federal environmental legislation has occurred."

"We are working closely with our partners at the B.C. Ministry of Environment, the lead response agency," he said.

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