|February 13, 2006
Paul First Nation Reserve sues CN over Lake Wabamun derailment
|Louise Bird used to drink water from Wabamun Lake, but like other members of the Paul First Nation she doesn't even want to go
near the shoreline now.
Since an oil spill last August, the 1,700 people on the reserve no longer pick blueberries at the lake's edge, she said, no longer use
shoreline rocks in their sweat lodges, no longer eat fish from the lake.
On Tuesday, the Paul First Nation filed a $775-million lawsuit against Canadian National, and the federal and provincial governments
for damages resulting from last summer's train derailment.
About 800,000 litres of oil spilled on the ground and in the water at Wabamun Lake. A recently released report says about 82 per cent
of the spilled fuel oil and 45 per cent of the pole-treating oil was recovered by late October.
The Paul First Nation reserve is at the east end of the lake, where oil ended up on the shore after winds drove slicks across the lake
from the Whitewood Sands spill site. Chief Daniel Paul said it took 10 hours before anyone told the band about the oil slick.
That first warning, which provided 30 minutes notice, came from Parkland Country emergency services instead of federal or provincial
Bird, 72, used to live on the lakeshore because her father was a fisherman. Her husband was also a fisherman. Before the spill, she
said, people took their children down to the lake to camp and many still picked berries. "They wouldn't even touch the berries this
fall," Bird said. Now people worry pollutants in the lake will seep into the groundwater feeding their wells.
Alberta Environment spokesman Robert Moyles said the department can't comment on the specifics of the lawsuit. He said the
department is committed to working with communities to make sure the lake is cleaned up properly.
Chief Paul said his people experienced "grief and shock" when they saw what the spill did to the lake and its wildlife. Some people
who live near the lake were surprised when they heard how much compensation the band is seeking. "It seems a bit exorbitant,"
said Leagh Randle, Village of Wabamun administrator, adding he had not seen the claim.
The village is not considering a lawsuit. "Everything we've billed them for so far, they've paid," Randle said. "You don't want to go to
the courts until you reach some sort of impasse and we haven't really reached that."
The village is still using bottled water and is working on the installation of water wells and pipelines for short-term use until they figure
out how to filter and treat lake water to remove any remaining oil.
The Lake Wabamun Residents' Committee doesn't have plans to file a lawsuit anytime soon. Doug Goss, the committee chairman,
said the Paul band's lawsuit might motivate CN to quickly settle the negotiation process for loss-of-use claims. As for environmental
damage, Goss said the long-term impact, if any, is not known.
Lawyer Ken Kolthammer said he has about 50 or 60 clients who want to sue for loss of property value. He expects to file his lawsuit
as early as Friday. If the lawsuit is certified for class-action status, it could reach hundreds of millions of dollars, Kolthammer said.
In 1997, CN settled another lawsuit from the Paul First Nation after two gravel trucks derailed a train at a crossing, causing the rail
cars to leak diesel fuel and trace amounts of formaldehyde.
Jim Feeny, a CN spokesman, said there is little he can say about the current lawsuit since it is before the courts. "We have
undertaken extensive cleanup and remediation on Paul First Nation land," he said. "We have said from Day 1 that we are fully
committed to the cleanup and remediation, and that remains the situation."
Bird said the band council did not consult people in the Paul community about the lawsuit. She said CN should be held accountable
for the damage, but rather than cash she would like to see compensation in the form of a new recreational facility, band office and
BY THE NUMBERS
The Paul First Nation filed a $775-million lawsuit Tuesday against CN and the federal and provincial governments. Here's how the
suit breaks down:
The Alberta government is being sued for $70 million, partly because it allegedly failed to warn the band of contamination.
The federal government is being sued for $200 million for allegedly failing to meet its legal obligations to protect the band's aboriginal
and treaty rights, for failing to consult the band and for failing to enforce its own laws.
CN is being sued for $505 million, mainly for damage and destruction of the band's land and resources.
Source: Hanneke Brooymans - The Edmonton Journal
Related story - Recent derailments a media nightmare for CN