A fuel spill in the boatyard at the Point Roberts Marina that spread to the pond adjacent to the Marina Mist condominiums has residents concerned about toxins in their backyard.
On May 13 at 1 a.m. Marina Mist resident Gail Brunetti called 911 to report a strong smell of fuel. The fire department responded and discovered a 36-foot trawler in drydock in front of Westwind Marine discharging diesel fuel on the ground.
“There was a leak in the fuel line and the bilge pump was pumping it out,” said fire chief Nick Kiniski. Firefighters used oil spill containment equipment from the spill response trailer they maintain at the marina to mop up the spill. “While it was pumping out we were catching it in a can,” Kiniski said, estimating the amount of fuel discharged was approximately 40 gallons, some of which went into the storm drain in the center of the yard.
Westwind Marine owner Ben Lazarus said once the boat owner arrived and shut off the power to the pump, he went through the drainage system with firefighters to see how far the spill had spread. “We traced the line to the third drain and it appeared to have enough oil to soak an oil pad but not enough to be flowing,” he said. “Our understanding at that time was that it was contained in the yard and that’s what we reported,” to the state department of ecology (DOE) and the county department of emergency management. Firefighters checked the pond and did not see evidence of oil, Kiniski said.
“What was reported was a smell and the parking lot reeked of diesel,” Lazarus said. “That’s where they started, and that’s where they stopped.”
The diesel fuel, mixed with dissolved asphalt and fuel stabilizers, did not stop in the parking lot. The following morning Marina Mist residents woke up to a sheen of diesel on the water and dripping from the storm drain that connects the pond to the marina’s storm drains.
“It was horrible,” said resident Shirley McConnell after crews from NRC Environmental Services cleaned up the spill on May 15 and 16. “We’re all sick, the dogs are sick and now it’s three days later. This was a toxic spill that should have been handled differently. They didn’t come back to look, not even once. I think you have an obligation to inform people within 100 yards of a spill like this.”
Kiniski and Lazarus said they were not aware the spill had spread to the canal. “I wish we would have known,” Kiniski said. “No one contacted me. There are things we could have done.”
Lazarus said the portion of the canal he could see from the marina side did not appear to have a sheen on it, and access was hampered by large blackberry bushes. “I didn’t realize it was accessible through Marina Mist,” he said. The delay in getting a cleanup crew on site was due to concerns about their insurance through Canada, he said, but also to a lack of urgency. “We didn’t believe it had escaped the yard,” he said.
When crews did arrive Lazarus said he had a patch cleared to check the pond and “we saw scum but weren’t sure if it was pond scum or fuel.” It was quickly determined to be fuel.
NRC used booms and oil absorbent pads, returning the next day with a larger truck and a skiff. The canal discharges into marina waters, and Lazarus said they found “what they described as an unrecoverable sheen” at the outfall.
McConnell said they had filed a report with the DOE and the federal environmental protection agency. Representatives from these agencies did not have sufficient information about the incident to comment at this time.
Brunetti thinks the marina’s stormwater system needs to be reviewed and perhaps modified to add a layer of protection for condo residents and the environment. “How much other toxic material gets into it,” she said. “This drains into the ocean and affects wildlife.”
“That detention pond did exactly what it was supposed to do,” said marina manager Jacquelyne Everett. “Stop it before it gets to the ocean.” Everett said the marina tests it’s stormwater system four times per year as per DOE requirements, sampling water from the pond for heavy metals and other toxins. “We are one of the few boatyards in the Pacific Northwest that has continually met standards.”