Nienke Klaver Initially there were grave concerns about the spill’s potential effects on the Tulameen River and its habitats. Extensive testing has revealed no or very minor impacts.

Managers plead guilty in B.C. coal mine spill

A 21-year-old holding a high school diploma made decisions resulting in disaster on the Tulameen River

More than four years after the Tulameen River ran black with coal slurry, criminal charges in the spill were settled quietly last Thursday in Princeton court.

Blame for the 2013 Coalmont Energy Corporation spill was shouldered by two men.

Allan McGowan, the mine manager, was 65 when the spill occurred. A professional with decades of experience in mining, he had just started with the fledgling operation.

Rocky Leong, who was 21-years-old and possessed only a high school diploma, was second in command as the mine manager designate.

McGowan pleaded guilty Thursday to introducing waste into the environment causing pollution and Leong pleaded guilty to introducing business waste into the environment.

Charges against the now-defunct Coalmont Energy Corporation were stayed.

McGowan and Leong were each ordered to pay nearly $10,000 to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, which will use the funds to support enhancement of the Tulameen and Similkameen River watersheds.

Crown attorney Joel Gold told the court the events of August 24, 2013 – when 60,000 liters of coal slurry were dumped into the Tulameen River “were the result of a perfect storm.”

“[It was] not following the legislative requirements…slow reaction time…fatigue, conflicting demands, production and cost pressures, inadequate training.”

Coalmont Energy Corporation was a closed mine, he explained, and had no permits to discharge substances into the environment.

The day of the spill a large cloth filter used in the mine’s water recycling process was disabled. McGowan – who mistakenly thought a new filter was being delivered soon – decided to flow slurry into three descending tailings ponds on the property as a temporary fix.

Later, when Leong was on site and the ponds reached capacity, he was advised by a visiting engineer and other workers that “something was wrong.”

They told him to shut down the mine, said Gold.

Instead Leong ordered a fourth pond dug and then made the decision to flow the slurry directly to a coal cake, hoping it would be absorbed.

The make-shift containment system failed, and the slurry poured into Collins Gulch and then to the river.

Gold said the damage might have been mitigated had McGowan acted sooner.

After receiving a report that black water was flowing through Collins Gulch he visited what he thought was the correct area and saw only clear running water. Later he was advised he had not inspected the actual gulch, and when he was directed to the proper location he identified the spill and halted operations.

McGowan’s defense lawyer E. Duncan said that while his client’s decisions were “certainly erroneous” he was operating in “good faith.”

He said McGowan was helpful during the initial stages of the investigation that involved several provincial agencies as well as Environment Canada.

“Despite being advised of his right to silence he took a leadership role,” said Duncan.

“He made statements that could be used against him. I tried to explain this to him and why it might make sense to ‘go mute’ and that didn’t matter to him. He did the right thing.”

Duncan told the court that McGowan is in ill health, and has been unable to find meaningful employment in the industry since the incident.

Attorney for Leong, A. MacKay, stressed to the court that her client was “wholly and profoundly unqualified to fill the role of mine manager designate that he was asked to fulfill…He had absolutely no prior mining experience.”

She underlined Leong’s lack of certification and education and said: “He didn’t even apply for the job.”

Despite initial concerns about the potential environmental effects of the spill, court heard extensive testing indicates there was either no or very limited impact on the Tulameen River and the habitats it provides for fish and wildlife.

Gold told the court that charges against Coalmont Energy Corporation were not being pursued as the company is bankrupt and a trial would be lengthy, costly and at best result in a “hollow victory.”

He said the crown did not seek “a significant individual penalty” for the two managers as “it would be unfair for the two who have taken responsibility for their part to be disproportionately punished.”

McGowan and Leong will each pay $9,885 to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, a $100 fine, and a $15 victims’ surcharge.

Just Posted

Trudeau exonerates hanged war chiefs of 1864 on B.C. Tsilhqot’in title lands

Prime minister rides horseback with Chief Joe Alphonse, TNG Chairman, to Xeni Gwet’in meeting place

B.C. Legions in need of young members to continue aiding veterans into the future

Lest we forget what thousands of men and women did to fight for Canada’s freedoms – but without new membership, many Legion chapters face dwindling numbers

Rain, snowfall warnings in effect across B.C.

B.C.’s Interior set to get hit with snow while the Lower Mainland is expected to see more rain

Turn your clocks back: Daylight Saving time ends Sunday

Don’t forget to turn back your clock, change your batteries

Residents search for answers in time of high bear/human conflict

It’s been a stressful year for residents and bears in the Bella Coola Valley

VIDEO: Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee dies

Marvel co-creator was well-known for making cameo appearances in superhero movies

VIDEO: Newcomer kids see first Canadian snowfall

Children arrived in Canada with their mother and two siblings last week from Eritrea

Calgary 2026 leader expects close vote in Winter Games plebiscite

Residents to choose in a non-binding vote on Tuesday whether they want city to bid on 2026 Olympics

Feds dropped ball with WWI anniversary tributes: historians

Wrote one historian: ‘Other than the Vimy Ridge celebration … I think they have done a very bad job’

Sides ‘far apart’ in Canada Post talks despite mediation, says union

The lack of a breakthrough means rotating strikes will resume Tuesday

Feds’ appeal of solitary confinement decision in B.C. to be heard

Judge ruled in January that indefinite such confinement is unconstitutional, causes permanent harm

B.C. health care payroll tax approved, takes effect Jan. 1

Employers calculating cost, including property taxes increases

Nunavut urges new plan to deal with too many polar bears

Territory recommends a proposal that contradicts much of conventional scientific thinking

Shelter struggles: Landlord takes over rental unit whenever visiting B.C. town

Renter’s story highlights how hard it is to find accommodation in Revelstoke

Most Read