Sackville manager Jamie Burke says the town was in a difficult position when it was negotiating with CN to acquire just over 6.7 acres from the railway for the construction of a big flood control pond south of St. James Street.
He was responding during Monday’s special council meeting to a question from Councillor Michael Tower who asked whether municipal officials made any attempt to find out from CN what they had buried on the property.
The town has since discovered about 14-thousand tonnes of soil laced with petroleum, aromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals and other contaminated materials that will cost taxpayers half a million dollars to clean up.
“Everybody in town knew that CN had junk in that thing and you had enough warning from everybody around town about it,” Tower said.
Burke responded that he was the main person involved in the land transactions with CN.
“CN was in a duty to disclose if they had any contamination on the property,” Burke said. “They did not disclose that they had any.”
He added that since CN had an office on the property and still needed one, the town offered to trade the AutoPlus building it acquired at 124 Crescent Street.
As part of the deal, CN indicated it would give its old property to the town on an “as is” basis.
“We had conversations with CN’s real estate team as we were going through the process,” Burke said. “They were not interested in any type of geo-technical investigation being done on that property.”
He said that when the contamination was discovered, the town asked CN for any information it had about what might have been stored on the site, but the company said it had no information in its files.
“This has been a difficult, difficult situation from the very start,” Burke said. “It is an unfortunate situation and, as we’ve said from the very start, thankfully the budget allows us to be able to remove the [contaminated] material; removing the material, we still think, it’s the right thing to do.”
Mayor John Higham asked Burke to respond to his summary of the situation in which the mayor said: “CN had no interest in providing the land if there was an option to look for contaminants before exercising that option.”
“I can’t say specifically that they’ve indicated that they weren’t interested in that, but I’d be very surprised if they would have permitted a geo-technical investigation of any sort,” Burke answered, “because what happens is that sometimes when you find contamination on your property, there’s then an obligation for you to clean it up.”
Burke added that CN needed a new office and offered the land behind Atlantic Towing on Lorne Street where its old one sat on an “as is, where is” basis.
“‘You need to get us an office because we have an office in that area where we [the town] want to put the pond,” Burke said summarizing CN’s position.
“The onus was on the municipality,” he concluded.
To listen to this two minute and fifty second segment of Monday’s town council meeting, click on the media player below: