By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
A PERCEIVED liability issue was named as the controlling factor behind a year-long delay in the release of a report into a 2012 Rubis gasoline leak that impacted Marathon residents.
A review of the delayed public disclosure of the Black and Veatch International report, commissioned by the Christie administration in 2015, was tabled in the House of Assembly by Minister of Environment Romauld Ferreira yesterday.
In a statement yesterday, Mr Ferreira accused the former administration of “hiding information from its people”.
“This crisis could have and ought to have been handled difficulty,” he continued.
“What contributed to the issue is a corrosive mindset that has emerged from the shadows. . . a mindset that says the people do not deserve to know information which would potentially save their lives.
“A myth that somehow the people and the government are different. The truth is the people and the government are one. We are Marathon and Marathon is us.”
He also said: “Tragedies of this nature make people feel like they do not count and that nobody cares. Truth is you, you do count and we do care. Your interests are our interests.”
The report prepared by retired Justice Joseph Strachan noted the inter-agency response was beset with communication delays - one in particular that spanned nearly four months - and a lack of productive momentum on the part of the Office of the Attorney General, the Ministry of Environment and related agencies. The report furthered while it was clear the need for expedition was appreciated by both entities, the process of managing the spill was prolonged.
“It appears that exposure to the Government to actual and/or perceived liability issues were controlling contributors to prior disclosure being, with the exception to the full content of the letter to Cable and Rubis, generally limited to BVI’s recommendations only,” the senior judge noted.
In Justice Strachan’s report, the gas leak is stated to have occurred in January 2013.
According to the BEST Commission, a leak of 12,000 gallons of unleaded gasoline at the service station at Robinson and Old Trail Roads occurred in late December 2012, and was reported on January 19 of the following year to Rubis and the government.
However, both Rubis and station operator Fiorente Management stated in court documents that the leak first occurred on November 25, 2012.
In defence to litigation filed by Cable Bahamas, which operated a building nearby, former station operator Fiorente Management and Investments Ltd claimed Rubis officials did not investigate concerns over the fuel leak at its Robinson and Old Trail Roads service station for more than a month.
The former operator admitted that the escape of gasoline and hydrocarbon vapours into Cable Bahamas’ property was caused by corrosion in the pipework at Dispenser 5.
It was also confirmed that some 20,000 to 30,000 gallons had been discharged, adding that the figure was based on fuel output analyses conducted by station’s accountant following the discovery of the gas leak.
The Black and Veatch International report found that Marathon residents were possibly exposed to harmful chemicals, including cancer-causing benzene.
The report was completed on February 20, 2014, but it was only made public by the government the following year in April after residents demanded it be released.
Justice Strachan’s timeline was constructed through the use of emails, drafts of minute papers, and two minute papers showing timelines that covered the period July 2014 to April 2015. He also prepared a supplemental report, which was underpinned by two additional bundles of documents and included the Ministry of Environment’s spill timeline.
In his supplemental report, Justice Strachan highlighted contributing factors: the absence of a shared, comprehensive and predetermined action plan for the management of a comparable inland gasoline spill; the need for, and belated production of, the Contamination Report and Remediation Plan of Rubis; the need for the delayed BVI report or purpose of critiquing the Rubis report; the effect of the inevitable lapse of unproductive time; the Cabinet invitation to the AG’s Office in early January 2014 to ascertain how spills are dealt with elsewhere and, further, to advise on specified matters.
Justice Strachan was appointed by the former Christie-led administration to conduct a “thorough” independent review into the cause of the delay in the release of the BVI report in May 2015.
In 2015, then-Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson explained that while it was “obvious” that experts in the various branches of government were working hard on the issue, officials may have operated “in silos” rather than co-ordinating remediation efforts.
At the time, the Office of the Attorney General stated Justice Strachan’s review of the report by Black and Veatch International was intended to ensure future investigations were managed according to international best practices; as well as to ensure timely public disclosure.
The Tribune understands the claims brought against Rubis by Cable Bahamas and several residents have been settled privately.