12/16/2013 03:17 EST | Updated 02/15/2014 05:59 EST

Slocan's Lemon Creek fuel spill blamed on bad directions

The company that spilled more than 30,000 litres of fuel into Lemon Creek in southeastern B.C. is claiming it should not be liable because its truck drivers got bad directions from the province.

This summer, a tanker truck transporting fuel for helicopters fighting a nearby forest fire rolled into the creek in the Slocan Valley. The resulting fuel spill led to a massive evacuation and a $4-million cleanup.  

In August one resident of the valley launched legal action to certify a class action lawsuit against the province, the helicopter company and the company contracted to deliver helicopter fuel to a staging area.

But in its response to the lawsuit, Executive Flight Centre Fuel Services has filed papers saying its drivers were given the wrong directions by the province to the helicopter staging area.

As a result, first one driver, and then a second driver, turned up the unmaintained Lemon Creek forestry road. Then, as the second driver was making his way back down, the road's shoulder sloughed away in a spot that had been undermined by the creek and the tanker rolled into the creek.

Executive Flight Centre says the province and helicopter company, not their drivers, are at fault. It argues it should not have to pay neither the $4-million cleanup costs incurred so far, nor any lawsuit payouts.

The company’s vice president Wayne Smook would not comment on issues before the court, but said his company lived up to its promise to clean up the spill.

Province says polluter should pay

In response B.C.'s Ministry of Environment issued a written statement that implied the company should still be held responsible for the cost of any cleanup.  

"British Columbia subscribes to the polluter-pay principle for spills, which is designed to keep the cost of response off taxpayers," said the statement.

Ernst-Ulrich Maas, owner of Transwest Helicopters Ltd., which was to accept the fuel shipment, says the issue is between Executive Flight Centre and the province.

"We're just the helicopter company. It's like you calling for a taxi, it has an accident on the way and you're blamed. It's nonsense," Maas said.

"I've got 16,000 hours of flying time. We risk our lives putting fires out, saving homes. For us to be drawn into something like this makes me sick."

Read the company's response