What was the number one news-making story in Trail this year?
According to a year-end web poll the Trail Times posted a few weeks ago, the Trail acid spill story was, by far, the biggest local news story of 2018.
The narrative is far from over, however.
Hundreds of vehicles were junked due to acid contamination from the April 10 and/or May 23 spills, so the financial fallout for ICBC quite obviously skyrocketed.
The B.C. insurer filed a lawsuit in October to recover costs for at least 400 write-offs – that’s in addition to all the extra resources required to process 4,000-plus claims at the Trail ICBC office within a few months.
Now the whole debacle sits in the hands of the B.C. Supreme Court, and neither the claimant or defendants are talking.
That said, last week ICBC told the Times approximately 4,300 claims had been reported to date.
Notably, while final numbers won’t be available for some time, it appears that vehicles are still being written off all these months later.
Two cars and one truck were parked to the side of the Highway Drive claims centre just a few weeks ago. These vehicles were marked with a red ticket on the windshield, a tell-tale sign of acid contamination.
“While we are still getting new claims being filed, the number of new claims is dwindling as time goes on,” said Lindsay Wilkins, ICBC spokesperson.
Of these claims, about 95 per cent have been estimated.
“We would hope that anyone who was affected by the acid spill would have already had their vehicle inspected,” Wilkins added. “If someone believes that their vehicle was affected by the acid spill and hasn’t brought it in to be inspected, for safety purposes we would urge them to do that as soon as possible. ICBC’s optional policy requires that the customer promptly notify ICBC of the loss or damage.”
Looking back at ground zero, at least at the Trail Times, the first rumbling about vehicles being written-off due to sulphuric acid began in early July.
A reader contacted the newspaper to give a heads up about what was going on behind-the-scenes at ICBC. At that point, 19 vehicles had been deemed unsafe from acid contamination and written-off, including hers. This person, who asked not to be identified, wanted locals to know that if they drove through the acid, their vehicle must be checked.
“This is a huge risk to the community since many people are still unaware that they may have driven through the acid and now their vehicles are slowly breaking down,” she said.
“I feel strongly that people in the community need to know that they may be putting themselves, and others, at risk by keeping their acid-damaged vehicles on the road.”
After that story came out, and was picked up by other media outlets, the number of claims blew up to 388 within one month.
From there, ICBC claims quickly soared into the thousands. The sheer volume of written-off vehicles – so many of them appearing to be newer models – jammed-up the ICBC lot and many other empty lots around the city all through summer and fall.
In September, Trail officials had a sit-down with International Raw Materials (IRM), the company who buys sulphuric acid from Teck Trail Operations, and representatives from Teck.
At that time, IRM stopped transporting sulphuric acid from the smelter after a third incident happened outside of Rossland. Notably, no acid was spilled when a contracted IRM transport carrier crashed on its way to the Paterson border. This was unlike the April 10 and May 23 incidents, when hundreds of litres were spilled on the highway through Trail.
Trucking acid out of Teck Trail resumed on Oct. 31, when IRM commissioned nine new carrier trucks.
“Our ramp-up plan is to go as slowly as all parties feel 100 per cent confident that shipping is occurring safely,” said IRM’s Carrie Gaines.
Back peddling to the spring, this story started on Tuesday, April 10. That morning approximately 220 litres of sulphuric acid was inadvertently spilled along a 16-kilometre (km) stretch of Highway 3B beginning at the Rossland Avenue intersection and ending at the Waneta reload centre (truck to train).
According to a joint release by Teck and IRM, the spill occurred between 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Responders were on the scene by 9:30 a.m. the companies stated, and clean up was completed by 2 p.m.
The second sulphuric acid spill is reported to have occurred between 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 23. In that incident, approximately 70 litres of acid was intermittently leaked over a 6-km distance of Highway 3B starting from the Rossland Avenue intersection and ending near Highway Drive in Glenmerry.
Teck and IRM stated that responders were on scene by 7:30 p.m. and clean up was completed in approximately four hours.
In both those incidents the carrier was Westcan Bulk Transport.
Besides hundreds of vehicles owned by regular joes, also lost were first responder vehicles. Those include the $780,000 main fire engine and command truck at the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary as well as two RCMP cruisers.
Two months ago ICBC collectively identified Westcan Bulk Transport, IRM and Teck as “Corporate Defendants.”
Two commercial truck drivers were noted in the claim as were the City of Trail and the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, the latter two named as “municipal defendants.”
Lastly, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and Ministry of Environment are listed as “Crown Defendants.”
Nearly 62 per cent of Trail Times respondents chose the sulphuric acid spills as the stand-out story on a list of five options.
Second in rank was “smoke and wildfires” which garnered 26 per cent of the vote.
Rounding out the roster of headline stories was “new builds,” those being the Riverfront Centre and Trail Sk8 Park, which came in third with about five per cent of the vote. The Smokies 2018 playoffs rallied a three per cent favour, tying with “None of the above.” And finally, municipal election results, drew 1.5 per cent of the popular vote.