Ralf Albrecht is fed up with what he considers the province’s general disinterest in environmental stewardship along a stretch of Highway 144 that borders his property.
The site, south of Onaping and Levack around where Marina Road intersects with the highway, has long since drawn the community’s ire for its numerous motor vehicle incidents.
Although Albrecht agrees this area poses a serious safety concern, as he has witnessed the aftermath of a number of collisions in front of the house he shares with wife, Lara Jourenkova, he contends the environmental impacts have been underreported.
“On a high water day, that corner bleeds with diesel because accident after accident has been done and very rarely do they do a cleanup,” he said. “I found an area that (fuel) was just literally coming out of the ground because of the moisture.”
While walking his property and the adjoining Windy Creek earlier this week, Albrecht pointed to a few places where water was seen flowing over booms that were put in place to prevent the spread of contaminants.
Spilled fuel has been an ongoing concern for years, but he said it shifted into overdrive this summer when a semi-truck crashed, sending the contents of its diesel tank spilling into the creek. Thankfully, he noted, the vehicle’s cargo tank remained intact.
Albrecht is critical of the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks’ reaction to the spill as well as the capabilities of the private contractors enlisted to do cleanup work.
“They should have been capturing more fuel,” he said, adding that the booms should have been placed more quickly and never been breached.
“Boom after boom has been failing.”
Albrecht said they’ve lived at the property for approximately 20 years and that the stretch of the highway out front didn’t become a serious problem until a few years ago, when large trucks gained the ability to move through the stretch much faster than before.
“Officially, (the speed limit) has not increased, but in reality…” Jourenkova said with a shrug.
The couple agrees that they both love living on the property and that aside from frequent motor vehicle collisions and the associated threat of environmental contamination, it has proven ideal.
“We’ve always used this creek for swimming,” Albrecht said. “On hot summer days that’s my go-to; I go to the creek for a swim, and that has completely not happened this year.”
The couple’s dog, a great Pyrenees named Bernie, and their collection of backyard chickens used to drink from the creek. No longer.
Their environmental concern extends to those who live downstream, including not only the short waterway that is Windy Creek, but also the much larger Onaping River it flows into.
Nickel Belt NDP MPP France Gélinas said that she fully agrees with Albrecht’s assessment that the frequent motor vehicle incidents pose a serious threat to the environment.
“I would say everybody is worried about that corner,” she said. “The level of stress and anxiety is through the roof.
“The Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Transportation tell me that everything was put into place to gather as much of the fuel as possible to keep it from spreading, but we all know if you go walk … you’ll see for yourself that if you poke at the ground or if you move things around there’s still oil in there,” she said. “I’m no biologist or anything, but I have eyes and you can see it.”
Gélinas said that she has been working to ensure the province takes the environmental impacts more seriously, and that although they haven’t appeared receptive she doesn’t give up easily.
“This area has had multiple incidents. Most of the time, when there’s a motor vehicle accident there’s some leakage of fuel, but the last one there was a lot,” she said, referencing the transport truck incident that spurred Albrecht to reach out to Sudbury.com.
“Even with the barriers … there’s fuel in the ground, there’s fuel in the water.”
This has been an area of advocacy Gélinas said she has been working on for approximately a year, and for which she received an update from the province approximately two weeks ago.
It’s still an open file, which Gélinas said is encouraging, and that when the booms are taken out it’s expected that water samples will be taken to help inform future action.
“I don’t make promises I can’t keep, so it will be up to the Ministry of Environment to do that or not. So far they have shown very little interest,” she said.
“It is an area of 144 that is very dangerous. It is extremely hard to get the government to give this the proper attention it deserves and I have had similar dangerous spots through Nickel Belt, and unfortunately most of the time nothing happens until there is a fatality.”
In response to an inquiry by Sudbury.com, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks issued a written statement in which they note they take “all spills and threats to the environment seriously.”
“Our role is to respond to spills, inspect the natural environment for potential adverse effects, and work with those responsible for the spill to ensure adverse effects are mitigated and appropriate actions are taken to protect human health and the natural environment,” they wrote.
“The transportation company involved in the accident and spill at the site has hired a contractor group to clean up the spill. The contractor group has completed the clean-up and intends to leave the series of booms in place during monitoring.
“Ministry staff are in regular contact with the contractors who are monitoring the site weekly. The ministry confirmed that one of the booms was damaged by debris in the water, e.g. sticks, and will be removed later this week.”
The statement from the province also noted that anyone with concerns is encouraged to contact the ministry’s Sudbury office at 705-507-4950.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.