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Capilano Highways monitoring after 'heavily concentrated saltwater' spilled onto Highway 101

Fire chief concerned rain could bring the material back to the surface of the highway
Police officer in downtown Sechelt directs traffic as an oil spill creates slippery road conditions

After a recent spill on nearly 12 kilometres of the Sunshine Coast highway, the next rainfall could help wash away the material, but it may also make the situation temporarily slippery again. 

On Friday, July 7, authorities notified the public about a spill of a slippery material along Highway 101 between Sechelt and Halfmoon Bay by a Capilano Highway vehicle.

Tyler Lambert, the manger of operations for Capilano Highway Services, told Coast Reporter between 3,000 and 5,000 litres of calcium chloride was spilled between the intersection of the highway at Wharf Avenue in Sechelt to Leaning Tree Road of Halfmoon Bay. 

Lambert clarified that the substance spilled was not oil, but a water-soluble material also used by other agencies such as the District of Sechelt to control dust on gravel roads.

“Essentially, it’s very heavily concentrated saltwater,” he said. 

The company, which is contracted by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI), is currently conducting a mechanical investigation of the truck to figure out what happened and the sequence of events that led to it. Lambert said he’s never had the valve in the spray bar activate mid-transport in his career.

Multiple agencies responded to the incident, including Capilano Highways, the BC Emergency Health Services, around 15 Sechelt firefighters, the Sunshine Coast Emergency Program, the RCMP, and several private contractors were brought in to conduct traffic control. 

Sgt. Dean Miller of the BC Conservation Officer Service said they will investigate if a violation is established but are currently gathering information. Lambert said there’s no environmental concern, as it’s “an environmentally inert product” and poses no danger to kids or pets. 

“But it does have an inherent slipperiness to it when it gets on asphalt,” Lambert said. “We’re very grateful to the fire department and the RCMP who came out and helped us slow everybody down while we were able to get some aggregate on it, which is really the only way to alleviate that slippery road surface condition.” 

On Monday, Sechelt fire chief Trevor Pike said, “This is the first time we've experienced a spill of that magnitude in our area. As far as how it was handled, I thought all the different assisting agencies did a very good job and the issue was mitigated as probably as fast as it could be.”

There were “lots of different layers to it, but we got lucky,” Pike said. While there were a couple of motorcycle accidents and the material got onto vehicles, there was no reported substantive property damage and no major injuries. 

“Once all the resources got on scene and traffic calming was put in place, things improved significantly,” Pike said. “So I think we were lucky to get everybody in place quickly.”

By Monday afternoon, Capilano Highways had sanded and swept the area four times, and plan to do so again on Sunday. The asphalt surface will likely be stained until there is significant rain. “Now it’s pretty much in a holding pattern,” Lambert said, as they continue to monitor the road condition and keep a close eye on the forecast. 

The risk of rain

As of the afternoon of July 10, the road is stable “but we don't know how it’s going to react to water, if and when water comes,” Pike said. 

Rain could bring the material back up to the surface, depending on how much traffic has been through the area, how long the road stays dry and how much of the chemical is left in the asphalt after the treatments. Capilano Highways will likely dispatch a sweeper as soon as the road becomes wet to see if they can “force it off the road, if it is indeed slippery.” 

“Rain will fix it — that’s the one good thing, it’s a very water-soluble solution. It comes actually in flakes and you dilute it, so the more water, the better. [Rain] will make it go away, but it could get quite slippery for that brief period where it’s raining and it’s pulling it up out of the asphalt," said Lambert. 

Pike said there may be "hope that continued warm weather will eventually evaporate as much of the product as possible, minimizing what the effects can be down the road if it rains.”

Pike urges caution for the next rainfall. “If it does rain, we could get some slippery conditions for that same stretch of highway.” If drivers come across slippery areas in the location of the spill, Lambert asks them to call Capilano Highways at 1-800-665-3135.

With files from Bronwyn Beairsto