CN cleanup of spilled coal now underway

CN has started the cleanup of Burnaby waterways after a train derailment spilled coal into Silver Creek, which leads into Burnaby Lake, on Jan. 11. - Mario Bartel/NewsLeader File
CN has started the cleanup of Burnaby waterways after a train derailment spilled coal into Silver Creek, which leads into Burnaby Lake, on Jan. 11.
— image credit: Mario Bartel/NewsLeader File

The cleanup of coal spilled into Burnaby waterways Jan. 11 is now underway following weeks of planning work.

The incident stemmed from a derailment of a Canadian Pacific train in which three cars tipped over, spilling 40 tonnes of coal onto the rail bed and into Silver Creek the feeds into nearby Burnaby Lake.

Canadian National, which owns the tracks and was operating the train at the time, is "providing the expertise, resources and funding to fully remediate the effects of the incident," said CN spokesperson Emily Hamer by email.

Immediately after the spill, coal was removed at the site by vacuum trucks, Hamer said.

"However, with regard to nearby waterways, it was determined that immediately following the derailment, the water flows were too high and the ground too saturated to commence an environmental survey as it may have been more harmful to aquatic life, given the conditions."

With Ministry of Environment approval, CN began a survey, carried out by Triton Environmental, of local waterways. The survey determined how much coal remained and where, the type of habitat is nearby and other information to assess solutions for cleanup.

After developing a formal cleanup plan and obtaining ministry approval and permission from Metro Vancouver to work on its lands, the work started the last week of February, Hamer said.

"An estimated 76 cubic metres of coal was found in Burnaby Lake plus 5.5 cubic metres of coal in Silver Creek. Clean up is now underway."

In Silver Creek, that work will involve using hand shovels from the bank or from shore with shop vacs. The company aims to remove the coal before fish start to hatch.

At Burnaby Lake coal will mainly be recovered using suction dredging with a vacuum truck and a "long reach excavator," said a Burnaby city staff report.

The collected water will go through a multi-step filtration system to remove the coal and sediment before the water is discharged back into the lake.

Fish, amphibians and turtles were first removed from the work area, a silt curtain was installed to contain the disturbed water, and young turtles and eggs were removed from their nesting beach.

The nesting beach will be restored and logs where turtles bask will be cleaned and replaced, the city report said.

Before the most recent cleanup work, the Ministry of Environment worked with agencies such as Burnaby city hall to review CN's plan. The ministry "provided additional recommendations and requirements for CN to ensure the clean-up work proposed had measures in place to protect sensitive habitat areas," the ministry said in an emailed statement.

"Protecting painted turtle overwintering habitat and stream spawning areas are a high priority in the recovery plan," the ministry said, referring to the endangered Western painted turtle present in the lake.

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