The source of the oily holiday season slick on Kettle Creek in Port Stanley Harbour continues to baffle Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP). And Central Elgin (CE) still refuses to comment on the toxic spill.

The blueish, milky film has dispersed since drifting down Kettle Creek last week from a point upstream of the King George VI Lift Bridge, south toward the harbour entrance on Lake Erie.

It’s not clear whether the spill impacted the Kettle Creek Source Protection Plan (KCSPP), protecting local drinking water quality. CE and the Kettle Creek Conservation Authority (KCCA) did not immediately respond to inquiries today.

The Elgin Area Water Treatment Plant is in Central Elgin, on the north shore of Lake Erie, about five kilometres east of Port Stanley. The water treatment plant – with a capacity of 91 million litres per day – serves about 112,000 people in London and St. Thomas, as well as the municipalities of Central Elgin, Bayham, Dutton-Dunwich, Malahide, Southwold, and Aylmer.

“To protect the health of the people who get their drinking water from Lake Erie, it is important to keep pollutants out of the lake,” according to the KCSPP. “This job starts with protecting the water and land immediately around the Intake Protection Zone.

“In the event of a spill, the operators of the water treatment plant may have to top up their storage reservoirs and close the intake pipe in Lake Erie while the pollutants flow past,” the plan continues.

Joe Gordon, KCCA’s Assistant Manager, Supervisor of Planning and Conservation Areas, has previously noted that the plant was notified of the spill in Port Stanley. But there has been no update on the impact or status of the facility.

“Ministry staff from the London district office attended the (spill) site on December 29, 2021,” said Lindsay Davidson, an MECP spokesperson.

“A Ministry water quality specialist was also in attendance to assist with assessing the impacts to the natural environment,” said Davidson. He said Ministry staff was also on site on December 31, 2021. “The source of the spill has not yet been identified.

“The Ministry will be working with the Municipality of Central Elgin to determine the best approach for cleanup of the spilled materials,” added Davidson.

However, when contacted today, CE Chief Administrative Officer and Clerk Paul Shipway and CE Director of Asset Management and Development Services Lloyd Perrin offered no comments. Mayor Sally Martin also did not respond to Beacon inquires today. The Beacon first requested comment from the three CE spokespeople on December 29, 2021, yet no one has responded.

“We are not involved with the fuel spill on Kettle Creek,” said Julie Gonyou, Elgin County’s Chief Administrative Officer. “At this time, unless asked by Central Elgin for support, the County has no role.”

Port Stanley’s Ed Finlan, a jazz artist, a sailor and Commodore at Port Stanley Sailing Squadron, reported the slick to Central Elgin Fire and Emergency Services. Central Elgin Fire Chief Ray Ormerod’s crew responded immediately and notified the MECP.

From the Ministriy’s perspective, Davidson said it processed the Port Stanley spill report through its London district office. An environmental officer evaluated the information provided, he added, and conducted a site visit to assess potential environmental and health impacts.

Describing spill protocols, Davidson said that during first site visits, Ministry staff focus on locating the spill source and preventing further damage.

“Samples may also be taken to confirm the nature of the spill and to gather additional information regarding a potential source for the spill,” he added. “If required, additional Ministry staff, such as a water quality specialist, can accompany an environmental officer to assist with the site assessment.

“Based on the findings of the spill assessment, and if the party responsible for the spill is identified, the Ministry will require the responsible party to conduct a clean-up of the spill area. The Ministry will oversee the clean-up to ensure it is conducted effectively.”

Davidson said the Ministry typically works with local agencies, including local municipalities and regional health units to assist with the assessment and clean-up of spills.

“The timeline for a spill assessment varies depending on several factors, including the type of pollutant spilled, the duration and cause of the spill, and local environmental conditions,” he said.

In 2009 the Ministry investigated a coal-tar blob on the Kettle Creek floor, north of the lift bridge. It was a remnant of the village’s industrial past. A 2010 Ministry report said no new material was leaking from the site. The Province spent about $4 million remediating the area in the mid-1990s.