Lorne St. flood control project hits $400k snag with discovery of contaminated soil

Town manager Jamie Burke

An estimated 9,000 tonnes of soil contaminated with petroleum and aromatic hydrocarbons as well as heavy metals have been discovered on the site that is being excavated for a flood control retention pond south of St. James Street.

It could cost up to $400,000 to haul 900 truckloads of it to Memramcook for safe disposal.

The town’s share of the cost would be 25% or up to $100,000 with the rest coming from the federal and provincial governments through the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund.

Councillor Bill Evans broke the news during the Sackville Town Council meeting Monday night when he moved a motion calling for approval of “additional expenses for the cleanup of the Lorne Street Phase 2 project due to a pocket of contaminated soil being found on the former CN property.”

‘Not thrilled’

“Obviously, we’re not thrilled about finding contamination on the property,” town manager Jamie Burke told council. “However, the good news is that there will be a property that was formerly contaminated in our municipality that will be cleaned up.”

Burke explained that the contamination was found on land that the town bought from CN Rail on an “as is” basis.

Much of the area where the retention pond is being dug served as a railway hub for more than a century with rail yards and a big railway shed on the site.

Councillor Shawn Mesheau asked why the engineering consultants the town hired hadn’t anticipated the possibility of contaminated soil.

“I’m kind of curious as to why they wouldn’t have gone a little more in depth in regards to the testing in an area that would be considered industrial,” he asked, “and how it is we’re kind of stumbling across this now.”

“I guess in hindsight, 20/2o’s a wonderful thing,” Burke answered, adding, “It’s easy to sit here now and say ‘we should have done this, we should have done that.'”

He went on to say that the town had just started Phase 1 of the Lorne Street project when the province indicated there could be additional funds for Phase 2.

“We then made a second  application,” he said, adding that the town and its consultants didn’t have the luxury of time to conduct extensive studies.

“We had done geotechnical investigation and we didn’t hit any contaminated soil,” Burke said.

“We did take a risk. Unfortunately, we had some contaminated soil and we’re very fortunate that it is only a small pocket.”

To read the town’s report on the contaminated soil, click here.

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7 Responses to Lorne St. flood control project hits $400k snag with discovery of contaminated soil

  1. Sharon Hicks says:

    I have to admit we were totally floored last night at the meeting when we heard this information!! It just raises SO MANY questions that it’s hard to know where to start!

    Last night immediately following the meeting, the Town posted a brief update announcement on their Facebook page, and I’ll state here what I commented on that post:

    “It is hard to fathom how those in charge of this project could NOT have expected to find soil
    contamination in that area – why was it not tested BEFORE going to tender?
    It was a rail yard for over a century, so the likelihood of finding various soil contaminants in
    that area is akin to the ‘possibility’ that one might find apples on an apple tree. It was a
    storage yard for creosoted rail ties, a handling area for various petroleum products, an off-
    loading area for petroleum tankers, and more.
    Most long-term residents of Sackville were aware of all this, but citizen input was NOT
    included in the planning for this project, even though many of us did try.
    Also, it seems ironic that the extra $400,000 which is now required to ‘fix’ this major mess is
    basically the same amount that is left in the ‘kitty’ for this project.”

    This latest ‘glitch’ just adds more to the growing list of questionable happenings in this whole project, right from the outset.

    Mr. Burke’s explanation last night that they were so ‘rushed’ at the beginning that they “didn’t have the luxury of time to conduct extensive studies” really doesn’t ‘hold water’. Once the initial funding was secured, there was PLENTY OF TIME to do further studies, since the actual start of this project was delayed quite extensively – due to the engineering consultants having to redesign and downsize the whole project after the first tender bids came in at double the allocated budget.

    So with all this abundance of additional elapsed time, and the fact that CN sold them the land “as is”, we’re expected to believe that NOBODY ever even had the thought “Hey, this was an active railway freight yard for 150 years – there is probably soil contamination!”

    It appears, however, that this was left to the contractor to ‘discover’ in the course of their digging. Is that a responsible manner in which to hire someone to do a job for you?

  2. Les Hicks says:

    Hi there,

    Thanks again Bruce for another informative post. I am wondering why the Town of Sackville and the Provincial and Federal Governments are considered responsible for the cost of cleaning up soil that was polluted by the former owner of the land in question, CN. In a New Brunswick Department of Environment Document ‘Compliance and Enforcement Policy’ dated Oct 2010, it is stated that “The primary purpose of this document is to outline the process followed by the Department in administering its regulatory responsibilities.” It then states that ” The “polluter pays principle” will be applied so that the public funds are not a principal source of funding for environmental clean-ups.” Further on in the document, it defines a Responsible Party as “a person who, in accordance with applicable legislation, may be subjected to the “polluter pays principle” for any necessary clean-up of contaminants that have
    been released into the environment.” Seeing that CN, the previous owner of the land in question, used it as a railway hub for more than a century with rail yards and a big railway shed on the site, it seems obvious that CN is the responsible party for the soil contamination in the first place.

    I think another question that should be asked, is why the Town of Sackville would purchase a piece of land, that was previously zoned for industrial usage, on an ‘as is’ basis, when it seems obvious that any industrial land would have the potential of contaminated soil being present. I think that Councillor Mesheau is correct to ask “why the engineering consultants the town hired hadn’t anticipated the possibility of contaminated soil.” This is a scenario that a consulting engineering firm must be fully aware of.

    Finally, Town Manager Burke’s statement that “I guess in hindsight, 20/20’s a wonderful thing”, and “It’s easy to sit here now and say ‘we should have done this, we should have done that.” is a slap in the face to the residents of the Town of Sackville, who expect town employees like Burke, who are paid by the taxpayers of Sackville, to display due diligence and professionalism when purchasing land for the Town, ESPECIALLY when purchasing industrial land, rather than flippantly dismissing any criticisms of their actions and decisions after a mistake like this has been made.

  3. Harold says:

    We went through this with the Armoury on Main & Allison about twenty years ago, cleaning up DND’s mess as well as from the Irving gas station that was across the street. Even a conversation in a local barber shop or pub with a mix of town citizens would have raised the question of contamination. It’s a $100K expense for us, but those responsible for this negligence will pay nothing.

    • Percy Best says:

      Harold, as best as I can recollect, it was DND that completely cleaned up the mess on their property that was totally created by their ‘good’ neighbor, the Irving gas station. It was corroded leaky tanks at the Irving that allowed the escaped fuel to follow the top of the impregnable shale, which was down 7 or 8 feet from ground surface, and it then got in around the foundation of the Armories. Sadly the building was scrapped and the entire mess was cleaned up before it was certified as being safe.

      It was us, the Canadian federal taxpayer that ended up coming good for it. The ‘good’ neighbor got off scot-free. I don’t think the Town of Sackville though had anything to do with the project.

      No one in their right mind these days would buy a piece of property that they knew could possibly be contaminated. That is why all property sales are run through competent Legal Firms to assure this.

  4. Percy Best says:

    It is way past time for an INVESTIGATION into this whole ‘Lorne Street Project’ by independent hydrological engineers in conjunction with the NB Dept of Transportation and Infrastructure. When this phase finally wraps up, approximately $9 million will have been spent of taxpayers’ dollars and there is still no rectifying the cause of the slow release of water from the town. That cause is, of course, simply clogged up and undersized dyke aboiteaux and the ditches that have been allowed to fill in due to a lack of maintenance over the past 55 years. DTI is the one responsible for the dykes and all the aboiteaux. They OWN them.

    Sackville Town Council has been ill informed about this fiasco from the get-go by certain Town Management as well as by Crandall Engineering. Town Citizens have been shuffled aside by the Senior Manager of Corporate Projects and told they have to pay just to chat with Crandall Engineering. For some reason, the tables seem to have now been turned and our 5300 Citizens have been relegated to the bottom of the ‘pile’ when it comes to actually participating in fully knowing what is going on behind closed doors and how our finances here in Sackville will be spent. Our Town Council, without full and accurate information, cannot possibly make wise decisions.

    This project should have been simply to replace an aboiteau and clean out the ditches as suggested by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure engineers. Any excess water would have then flowed freely to the Tantramar River for seven hours, twice each day at low tide, and the cost of the full project would have been around half a million dollars. That would have fixed the problem. A simple 5 hour back up pond would have been created at the aboiteau itself on nonproductive land.

    It is very maddening to see such a incredible waste of taxpayers’ funds, all so that a chosen few will be able to use another walking trail under the guise of a very impractical flood control system.

  5. Rima Azar says:

    In my opinion too, Councillor Mesheau asked the good question. I also find it odd that the Town did not have any environmental concern at the time of the land purchasing transaction (from CN!). It is hard to believe that the Town’s real estate lawyers did not warn it about this risk (as a potential liability). I am not a lawyer but I can try to think like one :).

    Maybe the Town knew about the contamination and used this knowledge to negotiate a good deal (land price)? Could it be? Or maybe the Town tried to be “clever” in a different way: by having a vision about this current scenario of funding for cleaning (involving the federal government) right from the moment of purchasing?

    Regardless, I guess it is the secrecy around this story that makes me feel very uncomfortable. There is usually nothing wrong in trying to be “clever” in “business” when it does NOT involve other people’s money. However, it is totally a different story when we overspend like this with taxpayers’ money. Plus, one must admit this story seems to contrast with our Town’s environmental virtue signalling.

  6. Oh well .. shit happens. At least we don’t have bombs dropping on us .. right? [ not gonna say a word about how $400K would have paid for a terrific concrete skatepark, that’s obvious right? ]

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