County accepts SOPF offer for losses incurred after barge sinking in Picton Bay

The sinking of the barge the Pitts Carillon at Picton Terminals in March, 2017. (SOPF). (Dave Tugwood/For the Gazette)




The County of Prince Edward has accepted an offer made by the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund (SOPF) to help recover losses incurred from the sinking of the Pitts Carillon Barge in Picton Bay in March,  2017. The amount offered by SOPF and accepted by the County was $394,110.76.

SOPF is a federally funded initiative mandated to help the victims of oil spills. With 30 years experience and over 400 claims in total, SOPF has only seen 10 claims made by municipalities.Of those claims made by municipalities, the compensation awarded to the County was the largest ever offered.

The County had originally asked for close to $600,000 in compensation

“We’ve paid a great deal more than this to the Coast Guard on past incidents, but this is a standout in the municipal front,” said Ryan Gauvin, Legal Counsel to SOPF. “Generally speaking,we have our internal marine experts and lawyers look at a claim when it comes in, and they’re responsible for advising the Administrator, who eventually makes the decision on compensation.”

Gauvin concedes that, due to the nature and complexity of the incident in Picton Bay, the assessment for this claim took longer than most. On average, claims do not exceed six months and most take about three months.

Some of the discrepancy between what the County asked of the SOPF and what was offered is due in part to the complexity of the issue in Picton Bay as well as the nature of assessing losses incurred.

In a statement to the Gazette, County of Prince Edward Mayor Steve Ferguson iterated that costs incurred include those related to laboratory fees, equipment, equipment rentals, water plant filter upgrades, water haulage and overtime costs.

“We also look to what was done by the claimant,” explains Gauvin. “Usually this comes in the form of evidence that they (the claimant) submits. Narrative being sort of their testimony of the incident and what was done in response, as well as the evidence they provide in terms of loss, costs and damage expenses incurred.”

Gauvin further explains that the SOPF tests the claims for reasonableness, asking whether or not measures taken were reasonable given the nature of the pollution threat.

“Reasonableness also ties to costs the claimant incurs, so we look first as to whether the measures were reasonable given the circumstances and then to whether those measures attracted reasonable expenditures,” stated Gauvin.

For the most part, the discrepancy between what was asked of SOPF and what was provided can be explained by the implementation of new water filters in the Picton Water Processing Facility.

“The majority of the discrepancy between the claim figure and the offer of compensation was related to the replacement of the old filters with four new filters. The fund Administrator determined that only two of the four filters could be considered a ‘reasonable preventative measure’ as a result of the incident. The Administrator found that two of the filters made the plant better and, as a result, the municipality should bear that cost,” explained Mayor Ferguson.

According to the assessment by SOPF, the County claimed a total of $205,042.94 for the supply and installation of granular activated carbon (GAC) media into the filtration system at the Plant.

“The County’s water supply demands did not require that all four filters be operational at all times,” according to the SOPF assessment.

Subsequently, fearing the contamination would lead to the plant’s intake where the filtration system would be unable to properly process hydrocarbons, the County sought remedial measures. There were also, according to the assessment, fears of a long-term plant shut down.

According to the assessment, the County received a discount of approximately 3.5 per cent by purchasing four filters as opposed to two, which may explain their decision to do so.

However, it is the timeline for installation with which the SOPF took issue.

“In short, the County knew or ought to have known that Filters 3 and 2 would come online far too late to be effective against any credible threat caused by the incident when it placed its order. We thus cannot accept that the County’s purchase of GAC media to be installed in these two filters represented a reasonable preventive measure,” stated the SOPF.

Regarding the discrepancy, Mayor Ferguson has stated the County will have to “write off the remaining balance as betterment.”

“Broadly, we find the response of the County to the events that triggered this claim was graduated, disciplined, and in alignment with its responsibilities as license-holder for the plant,” concluded the SOPF.