Brian Johnston said the sight of oil spilling into a Drag River stream where Walleye spawn is “sickening.” The avid fisher called out the decades-long problem in a viral Facebook post March 30.
Johnston said a small stream of oil, the result of an old gas station near the locale, has continually poured into the river since the 1980s. The post had been shared more than 120 times as of April 12.
Johnston said he was glad to bring the problem to light.
“It’s kind of embarrassing it’s not been cleaned up,” Johnston said. “How many times does this have to happen before this gets fixed?”
Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks district engineer Kelly Andreoli said the leak is coming from an underground storage tank of fuel oil, which she said the province confirmed in a 2012 drilling program. She said the oil was initially sporadic but is appearing more frequently in recent years due to fluctuations in groundwater.
Andreoli said the province plans to remove the buried oil tank and install a barrier along the shoreline to prevent any residual contamination.
She said a work plan and site investigation are likely to begin this spring.
“The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks takes all spills and threats to the environment very seriously,” Andreoli said. “The ministry anticipates that implementation of the various stages of the remediation project will require approximately five years.”
Andreoli said although there may be some localized impacts from the seepage, the environmental impact appears to be minimal. But Johnston said it is still important to get the spill fixed. He noted how area municipalities have prioritized waterway protection with laws such as septic tanks being set back from shorelines.
“It’s just as bad as littering. If I went to your property and spilled a bunch of diesel fuel on your property, how would you feel about it?” Johnston said. “A waterway is public property.”
Johnston said there is difficulty determining who bears responsibility for the underground tank, but the solution is likely to come from taxpayer dollars.
Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts said the ministry cleaned the area in the past, but she does not have further information on the spill. Andreoli said the township has assisted by maintaining absorbent booms in the area to help mitigate the seepage.
Johnston said he was not out to point fingers at the municipality but would like it addressed. He noted how the section of the river can teem with Walleye at this time of year. He said the absorbent boom is not enough and more needs to be done.
“As long as we are aware and spread awareness of the issue, hopefully, the faster this will be dealt with,” he said.