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Residents alarmed by foam, black goop in Bighill Creek

A number of Cochrane residents are alarmed after reporting seeing strange substances spewing from a storm drain under Griffin Road and flowing into Bighill Creek.
A white foam was spotted flowing out of a storm drain under Griffin Road into Bighill Creek. Residents are concerned about the substances they saw flowing from the storm
A white foam was spotted flowing out of a storm drain under Griffin Road into Bighill Creek. Residents are concerned about the substances they saw flowing from the storm drain.

A number of Cochrane residents are alarmed after reporting seeing strange substances spewing from a storm drain under Griffin Road and flowing into Bighill Creek.

Cochranites out walking near the pedestrian underpass directly west of the Fifth Avenue intersection found a white foam and a black, oil-like substance last month on separate occasions.

Debbie Wilson told the Eagle she was walking with her friend Kim Nash near the culvert Oct. 16 when they were alarmed to see a black, oily substance with a pungent petroleum smell filling much of the creek.

“Both of us looked down at the creek and thought ‘why is the creek black?’ I swear if you threw a match, it would have caught on fire. It covered the rocks; it poured out en masse. It was just horrible.”

Pat McCarron was out walking with a group a few days later when he encounter a white foam rising out of the creek at the same drain.

“What I saw was foam had come out. If I had to guess I’d say it was maybe the size of a 45-gallon barrel if you scooped it all up and put it in a barrel.

“It looked just soap suds.”

He said he did not see any black substance.

Both Wilson and McCarron had alerted Guy Woods, director of Bow Valley Habitat Development, who then encountered a similar foam on the morning of Oct. 28 while he was conducting spawning surveys of fish populations in the creek.

“It was foaming enough that it indicated to me that it was probably very potent.

“It’s more than just a garden-hose sized spill. It sounds to me more like a tanker truck dumping into the storm drain somewhere.”

Woods said he was alarmed since there was no obvious cause.

“Because we hadn’t had rain for the last month, there’s no precipitation draining into the system. I witnessed it at 9:30 in the morning when it was freezing out; nobody would be washing their vehicle in that cool weather.”

He said that the drain is connected to the storm-drain system of the Quarry development farther up hill.

Woods then reported the incidents to the town after hearing from Wilson and McCarron.

Wally Hume, roads manager with Town of Cochrane, said administration sent out workers to investigate the foamy substance but related that it was gone by the time workers arrived to the scene on Oct. 29.

Hume said they also investigated the black guck. However, while the cause of the foam proved to be elusive, he said the black substance was the result of a third-party contractor hired by the Quarry site’s developer, Springwood, to clean out the scepter.

A stormscepter is a large concrete holding structure that captures and retains oils, debris and sediment from storm water that flows through it before entering water ways. Storm water from the Quarry development travels through the scepter before flowing to the drain along Griffin Road.

Rick Deans, Cochrane’s senior manager of infrastructure services, said the contractor’s crew had dumped the residual water back into water way from the scepter after clearing out solid debris from the containment structure.

“There was an error of judgment on their part, to dump the water back and keep the solids in their truck.”

Deans said the town did follow up with Springwood – the company that owns the Quarry development and the stormscepter – and the contractor (Deans said he was unaware of the contractor’s name) about the incident.

He said because the town found out well after the incident, administration could not build a strong-enough case to pursue charges under the town’s bylaws.

“I want to make it clear the town doesn’t take those incidents lightly. If something like that were to happen again, we would be perusing violation of the bylaw. It’s a difficult thing when we couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Nathan Boskers, Springwood’s vice-president of construction, said he was informed of the incident. He did confirm his company had contracted the cleaning out to the third-party who had built the scepter.