The Spill at Saglek
In February 1988,140 000 litres of fuel oil leaked out of a storage tank situated on the lower level of the Saglek radar site. The Labrador Inuit Association (LIA) did not learn about this spill until almost two weeks later, when the incident turned up as a news item on CBC. CBC found out about it during one of its regular checks of the oil-spill reporting numbers.
Neither the Department of National Defence (DND) nor the province contacted LIA about the accident, nor did they accommodate LIA's request for an onsite visit to assess the situation in February. The provincial Department of Environment assured LIA that the spill would not likely have any serious impact because all the storage tanks were dyked; that is, they were lined with an impermeable membrane which would contain any spilled oil. However, the gravity of the situation could not be gauged until the snow cover disappeared.
After the snow melted in June, investigations indicated that the fuel oil leaked out through the impermeable membrane and into the surrounding environment. The liner in the dykes had failed.
DND and the province contacted the LIA as soon as they discovered that the fuel oil had leaked out of the containment dyke, and this time they made every effort to get a Labrador Inuit Association representative up to the site as soon as possible.
The fuel oil that leaked out of the storage tank and out of the liner in the dykes seeped into random ditches and sink-holes in the general area around the tank and appeared to be percolating up through the ground. Containment trenches were dug on the downhill side of the tank in an effort to prevent any of the leaked fuel oil from entering Saglek Bay. The percolation process is slow and unpredictable, and continued throughout the summer.
LIA believes this type of incident only confirms the need for concern about the potential disruption to wildlife and the environment resulting from DND's various activities. LIA had no input into the development of the site's Environmental Protection Plan, and DND has not acknowledged queries about an adequate compensation plan for damage to wildlife or the environment, or for the disruption of the traditional hunting, trapping, fishing, and gathering activities of the Labrador Inuit.
The incident also demonstrated that the inventory of emergency cleanup equipment located on site was inadequate; moreover, efforts to bring in the necessary gear from St John's and (Goose Bay were compromised by the perennial and predictable weather problems that affect flying in and out of Saglek.