Questions raised about discovery of contaminated materials during ‘learning day’ tour of Sackville’s new flood control project

Town engineer Dwayne Acton conducting tour of St. James St. flood control pond

More than 50 land-use planners, government officials, academics and members of environmental organizations visited Sackville Tuesday to learn about the town’s climate change adaptation projects including the new $2.5 million flood control pond that is still under construction.

The event, which was billed as Learning Day: Natural and Nature-Based Climate Adaptation, was organized by the New Brunswick Environmental Network and paid for by the federal and provincial governments.

Town engineer Dwayne Acton and senior manager Jamie Burke delivered a slide presentation on the Lorne Street flood control project at the Sackville Commons and then led participants on a tour of the 40,000 cubic metre storm water pond that is part of Phase II of the project.

“We tried to keep the natural features, groves of trees that were native to this area,” Acton told tour participants as they stood beside the pond on the south side of St. James Street. “We tried to create our own naturalized retention pond.”

He said any additional costs of keeping the natural features were “minimal, minimal,” adding that the pond’s service roads would double as walkways connecting to the town’s extensive trail network.

Acton pointed to an excavator on the west side of the pond that was loading creosoted rail ties and concrete onto a truck that would haul them along with soil laced with petroleum, aromatic hydrocarbons and heavy metals to a disposal facility in Memramcook.

As reported earlier, disposing of the contaminated materials is adding an extra $500,000 to the cost of the project.

Acton explained that the town originally planned to drain storm water to a second larger pond.

Plans had to be changed after bids on the original one came in at $6 million, double the original budget.

“But then we were able to acquire a lot of land from CN which turned out to be a bit of a mess,” he said, referring to the discovery of the contaminated materials on the railway’s property.

View of pond from where tour participants were standing

When someone wondered whether CN was motivated to give up the land because the company would benefit from a flood control project near its tracks, manager Jamie Burke responded that the town hasn’t figured out “what really motivates them,” adding that CN had an old office building that he probably wouldn’t want to put his dog in, so that when the town offered to buy a more modern building in the industrial park, CN agreed to swap the land for it.

The group laughed when Burke went on to say, “They said ‘OK, you do that for us and we’ll give you the rest of the property as is, where is.'”

When a participant asked about CN’s financial responsibility for removing the contaminated materials, Burke said: “They own property all across the country and their properties are contaminated across the country, so they don’t want to get into the contaminated land business.”

He added that CN told the town the storm water would have to be stored on the north side of its tracks.

“So despite the federal government, the provincial government, the town of Sackville making improvements to protect not only our own municipality, but a piece of national, critical infrastructure which is the train track,” Burke said, “they have yet to contribute any money to the overall project other than partnering in the land exchange.”

When another participant asked whether the town had exercised “due diligence” in acquiring the CN land, Acton responded that six or eight bore holes had been drilled to test the soil.

Later, after the group had moved to the other end of the pond near Crescent Street, Burke said that good communication, including his regular updates on the town’s website, are key to maintaining public support.

He acknowledged that there is still opposition to the town’s approach from a small and persistent group, but suggested half jokingly that the critics might be silenced when Sackville eventually wins awards for its flood control project.

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14 Responses to Questions raised about discovery of contaminated materials during ‘learning day’ tour of Sackville’s new flood control project

  1. Rima Azar says:

    Mr. Jamie Burke “acknowledged that there is still opposition to the town’s approach from a small and persistent group, but suggested half jokingly that the critics might be silenced when Sackville eventually wins awards for its flood control project”.

    With increasing mediocrity in our society, country, and around the world, I hope that our awards will not become as empty as some of our words.

  2. Percy Best says:

    When our Provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastructure initiated the project to curtail flooding in the Westcock area, their engineers, in conjunction with the Fredericton based Hilcon engineers, simply planned on replacing the deteriorated and undersized aboiteau system. They knew that there is only approximately a 5 hour period, twice a day, that the flow of water would be restricted because of the tide cycle.

    That complete project, costing less than $2 million, will wrap up in a few weeks. This total drainage basin system is over 25 times larger than the downtown Sackville one so of course they are dealing with a flow of roughly 25 times more fresh water. What they now have in place, at the Rte 935 causeway, are three 6′ diameter main aboiteaux and a single 6′ overflow aboiteau. They had no thoughts of any retention ponds even though they could have very easily utilized a massive one, with approximately one million cubic metres of storage, that is already in place, and that of course is the Bulmers Pond. It would have been a rather simple matter to construct an operational outlet gate on this now huge empty pond that could easily be closed when flooding threatened. They knew they did not need it. They just needed to fix the outlet which they wisely did.

    Meanwhile the management of our Town preferred to do exactly the opposite that DTI has done and create a decorative holding pond. Not one penny has been spent on cleaning out the existing primarily clogged up wooden 3′ x 2′ aboiteau near the end of Landing Road. The Hilcon Report recommended installing a 6′ diameter aboiteau there, exactly the same as one of the ones down at Rte 935. It would have more than adequately done the job of draining water from our Town once the ditches had been cleaned out. And it could have been done for under $500,000.

    A FULL independent investigation of this whole fiasco needs to be started immediately. There are a LOT of unanswered questions and our Town has to have proper and impartial input as to how to ‘responsibly’ proceed from here.

    • Wrayton says:

      As the DTI report states, in their opinion “flooding could be reduced” if all their recommendations are followed. That’s right, the report’s conclusion only states that the flooding “could be reduced”. Not solved, “reduced”. Not ‘fore sure’, but maybe.

      Also: the Westcock basin is not in the middle of a town, which makes a huge difference.

  3. Wrayton says:

    There is not really any new information in this story. It is bound to elicit similar comments as its predecessors. I question it.

    • Rima Azar says:

      Mmm—For someone so critical of our Canadian Armed Forces, why aren’t you as critical when it comes to our town’s fiscal actions, Wrayton?

      • Wrayton says:

        Rima, I am also very critical of my self, which reveals just as much about my position on the Town’s fiscal actions.

    • Percy Best says:

      What do you mean Wrayton? The story contains facts that happened yesterday and it is the major ongoing Town project. Thank you Bruce Wark for keeping us so well informed.

    • brucewark says:

      Thanks so much for your comment Wrayton. Not sure if you are right about there not being any new information in this story. I did feel, as someone who has covered it from the beginning, that certain things hadn’t been brought to light before, including Jamie Burke’s reference to CN’s cross-Canada record of contamination. I also found it interesting that the participants in the “Learning Day” tour raised similar questions about CN’s responsibility for the clean up and the town’s “duty of due diligence” that town councillors had also raised. I thought it would be useful to report the answers to their questions to supplement the ones given to town councillors. I should also note that this was not an easy story to report because, for some reason, the New Brunswick Environmental Network did not issue a news release about it. I found out about the town’s tour of the new flood control pond completely by accident. In that sense, this is accidental news, not meant apparently for the general public.

      • Louis says:

        I’d say that the very fact that there was a tour is news enough to warrant an article.
        Burke’s view of people who question Town Hall is also newsworthy.

  4. In the end God decides if this place floods … I suspect God has plans we could never fathom and never truly prepare for.. but I follow Patrick Moore on Twitter not Sabine Dietz so I sleep well at night .. I have no climate stress and I certainly don’t need climate therapy or counselling.. what a town of coddled simpletons.

    • Louis says:

      I must say, I do lose sleep at night, but it’s over living with an ever-increasing number of what you termed “coddled simpletons”. The consequences of these kinds of societal movements will present much sooner, and be much more severe than “climate change”, of that I have no doubt.

      One of these days, they might actually succeed in killing off the goose that lays the golden eggs (i.e., Western civilisation), and while they’re likely themselves to be the first ones to suffer from it, it won’t be fun for the rest of us either.

  5. Sharon Hicks says:

    Just a few comments to add …

    First, as Bruce Wark has pointed out above, there are indeed some newsworthy quotes in this report of yesterday’s tour …

    First, Mr Burke’s reply as to why CN gave up the property – he made it sound as though the town just “happened to have” that prime piece of Industrial Park land with the ‘newer modern building’, which they then offered to CN in exchange for their old decrepit building and land.

    However, we were led to believe, at the time, that the Town actually purchased that Industrial Park property with the INTENTION of swapping it with CN. In other words, the plans were already in place before that purchase was made. The Town paid more than the property was actually worth, but that’s another story for another time.

    So, in other words, it was our understanding that the CN swap deal was on the table BEFORE he Industrial Park property was purchased.

    Next, Mr Burke’s reply to the question about CN’s financial responsibility is, as Mr Wark has also pointed out above, very revealing. His statement was: ““They own property all across the country and their properties are contaminated across the country, …” This certainly sounds as though he/they DID have information prior to the transaction with CN, which would have surely alerted them to the high probability of contamination in that area.

    And yet they accepted the property ‘as is’. And we all know how that has turned out.

    Finally, to keep this as brief as possible …
    Dwayne Acton replied to a question regarding ‘due diligence’, where he stated there had been “six or eight” bore holes drilled to test the soil.

    Mr Acton is an engineer. Surely an engineer would know the number. Engineers like exact numbers. So why would he not use a specific number instead of that generalization “six or eight”? Was it six? Was it eight? Or was it seven? Or was it some other number?

    His comment actually raises a few more questions …
    – when were the bore holes done? – by whom were they done? – where is the report?

    To our knowledge, the only bore holes were done in preparation for the initial Tender package for this phase 2 project, and the results were included with that Tender package. In that report, there was only 1 borehole drilled on the actual CN land, and that one was nowhere near the area where contamination was later found.

    Also, those bore holes were intended to identify the types of soil layers located under the surface, so the contractors would have some idea of what sort of materials they would be digging in. There was no mention in that report of doing any testing for contamination.

    If there were other boreholes done at a later time, to test for contamination, that is something that has not been made known to the public.

    There is more I could comment on, from this one article alone, but I will leave it at this for now.

    • Louis says:

      Sharon – this level of detail is more than a comment, but almost an addendum to the article. THANK YOU!

      Please hurry up and tell us everything now, lest you “be silenced when Sackville eventually wins awards for its flood control project”!

  6. Rima Azar says:

    Hello Wrayton:

    “Rima, I am also very critical of my self, which reveals just as much about my position on the Town’s fiscal actions”.

    Always nice to chat with you, even when your words are unclear.

    I am happy to know you are self-critical too. However, this does not clarify your “position” on the town’s fiscal actions or your identity even (although I am personally just fine with “the Mysterious Wrayton on the Warktimes” :)).

    Now, more seriously, are you talking about a position like a role or a responsibility or a job? Or do you mean opinion about our town’s fiscal actions? Or both?

    Maybe you are playing on words… or hiding behind them. Who knows?

    Regardless, it is somehow reassuring to see that there is a sort of somehow open channel of communication… This is what gives me a small light of hope, even if just virtual… Hope for more accountability and a dream for an increased sense of responsibility, at least with this project.

    I think a real sunshine of hope would be to listen to Mr. Percy Best’s recommendation or request: An investigation into this story and, as we wrote once, “ASAP” before further waste of money… and prior to any “empty” award to the Town (referring again to Mr. Jamie Burke’s comment on silencing citizens’ opposition with the latter).

    Money, both public and personal, does not grow on trees. Moreover, as we say in Arabic (a Lebanese saying, if I recall well… or just my dad’s wise words :)?), “money is like a groundwater well”. What does this mean? If we keep overspending (= mismanaging), it will eventually go dry… especially in times of shortage (water or money).

    Thanks to the Warktimes for keeping us informed and allowing us to “communicate”.

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