The pricetag got a bit higher last week to clean up contaminated soil on the former CN property the town purchased last year.
Town council authorized an additional expenditure of $125,000 during a special noon-hour meeting on May 27, bringing the total soil remediation costs to date to $525,000. The CN property, located in behind Lorne Street, was acquired for the stormwater retention pond that is being developed as part of the town’s larger flood mitigation efforts.
“We’ve reached our 9,000 tons and there’s additional contamination that needs to come out,” said town engineer Dwayne Acton.
In April, council was initially asked to approve $400,000 for the removal of an estimated 9,000 tons of contaminated soil from the site, which was purchased by CN Rail on an “as is” basis. The soil was found to be contaminated with petroleum and aromatic hydrocarbons as well as heavy metals. During the excavation, there were also other materials that were discovered underground which added to the volume, including buried concrete, railroad ties and a terra cotta water main that needed to be removed.
Acton reported the unwelcome news last week that another 5,000 tons of soil would need to be trucked away to the Envirem Organics disposal site in Memramcook, coming with an estimated cost of $125,000.
The additional expenditure raised the ire of several councillors, who voiced their displeasure over the rising costs of the project.
Coun. Allison Butcher questioned the original use of the word “pocket” that was used to describe the contaminated area that was only discovered two months ago.
“I thought it was just a pocket of soil. Now, each time we come back, it seems that this pocket is so big that I wouldn’t refer to it a pocket,” said Butcher. “I know people had asked before why didn’t we find these when we were doing the bore holes and I was thinking, well it’s just a pocket. Well, this is a freakin’ big pocket.”
She also wondered when council should stop agreeing to pay for the continuing clean-up costs and instead have Crandall Engineering, the firm overseeing the project, share the responsibility.
“What if we say no, then what happens? When does it become not just the town needing to pay for this bump in our road? And when does Crandall chip in or when do we stop needing to keep paying and paying and paying?”
Coun. Shawn Mesheau agreed, saying there’s no guarantee that more contamination won’t be found.
“This is becoming a money pit,” he said. “And as we dig, we find more and more and I’m just wondering what type of liability that Crandall has here.”
Mesheau said that even though the municipality is only on the hook for 25 per cent of the clean-up costs (since 75 per cent is covered under Clean Water and Wastewater Fund project budget), it’s still taxpayers footing the bill “and we keep digging the hole deeper.”
He feels the proper due diligence wasn’t done on this piece of property and “there’s a lot of balls that have dropped here.”
Pierre Plourde of Crandall explained to council that determining the amount of contaminated soil on a site is unfortunately not an exact science.
“We can do test bits but until you take it out of the ground, there’s no certainty,” he said.
He said the initial quantity of soil provided to council was established based on bore holes at an average depth. But as the excavation process gets under way, “this is where you realize where the contaminants area.”
“As we talked about before, I don’t think we want to leave anything in the ground,” he said. “The goal here is to make sure the contaminants are out of the way because we’re dealing with a sensitive area.”
“We can’t look it at it environmentally and say let’s close our eyes on this,” Plourde continued. “I don’t think it’s the safe thing to do.”
Mayor John Higham pointed out that the town did not have any indication there might be contaminated soil on the property when it was purchased. He said New Brunswick’s Department of Environment did not have it flagged on its list of potentially-contaminated sites and the recent environmental impact assessment conducted by the province also did not offer any alerts for contaminated soil. Bore hole testing conducted by independent engineers also gave no indication of potential problems.
“So in terms of what the town has done, it would probably meet any element of due diligence,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken said he believes most of the blame should lie with CN Rail, who “indiscriminately buried large tons of toxic junk and now we’re expected to clean it up.”
He said in spite of the costs, however, the town is doing the right thing in cleaning up the contamination.
“It has to be done, we have to get rid of it.”