More contaminated soil found at Sackville flood project; clean-up costs rise to $500k

Excavation continues on flood project that includes a 40,000 cubic metre pond where an estimated 14-thousand tonnes of contaminated soil and other toxic materials have been found

Sackville Town Councillors were summoned to a special meeting at noon on Monday where they were asked to approve spending another $125,000 to dispose of 5,000 more tonnes of contaminated soil discovered last week during the excavation of a flood control pond south of St. James Street on land that was used as a railway yard for more than a century.

Last month, council  approved spending about $400,000 to dispose of 9,000 tonnes of soil laced with petroleum and aromatic hydrocarbons as well as heavy metals. At the time, officials described the contaminated area as a “pocket” on property the town bought from CN Rail on an “as is” basis.

Town engineer Dwayne Acton explained on Monday that an additional 5,000 tonnes of soil mixed with various materials including buried concrete, creosoted wood and a six inch terra cotta water main would now also have to be trucked to the Envirem Organics disposal site in Memramcook.

Both Acton and Pierre Plourde of Crandall Engineering — the company that is overseeing the flood control project — warned however, there’s no way of knowing for sure whether more contaminants will be discovered as excavation continues.

‘Just a pocket’

Coun. Allison Butcher

Councillor Allison Butcher sounded uncharacteristically angry as she questioned the original use of the word “pocket” to describe the contaminated area that had not been discovered during drilling for soil testing.

“I know people had asked before why didn’t we find these [contaminated soils] when we were doing the bore holes and I was thinking, well, it’s just a pocket,” Butcher said. “Well, this is a freakin’ big pocket,” she added, her voice rising in apparent frustration.

“When does it become not just the town needing to pay for this bump in our road,” she said, “and when does Crandall chip in or when do we stop needing to keep paying and paying and paying?”

Butcher suggested that Crandall should have foreseen the contamination when it originally assessed the project and should now share at least some of the clean-up costs.

Crandall engineer Pierre Plourde responded that in civil engineering projects, contractors such as Birch Hill Construction, are paid for every tonne of soil they remove and truck away based on amounts that are sometimes higher and sometimes lower than originally estimated.

He explained that some aspects of the project, such as installing pipes under the CN tracks, cost much less than expected.

“It goes both ways,” Plourde said. “We’re managing the contract as a whole, but when you look at it, some items will be higher, some items will be lower…It’s a unit bid contract as opposed to a lump sum contract.”

‘Money pit’

Coun. Shawn Mesheau

Councillor Shawn Mesheau  said he agreed with Butcher that Crandall Engineering should take some responsibility for the project’s rising costs.

“This is becoming a money pit,” he said. “CN is known not for taking care of its properties and as we dig we find more and I’m just wondering what type of liability that Crandall has here.”

Mesheau said that even though the town is paying only 25% of the costs, it’s still taxpayers who are footing the bill and there’s no guarantee that more contamination won’t be found.

“The fact is is that the due diligence wasn’t done on this piece of property to ensure that we aren’t up against this again,” he said. “There’s a lot of balls that have [been] dropped here and I’m sorry, but as a councillor sitting here and going to be requested to spend another $125,000 of taxpayers’ money and we’re still not sure? That concerns me.”

Mayor defends ‘due diligence’

Mayor John Higham

Mayor John Higham said that until the contaminated soil was discovered, the town had no indication that it might be on the excavation site.

He noted that the province had not flagged it on its listing of potentially contaminated land.

“You’ll recall that in the parcels [of land] that we brought together, there was only one plot that had a flag of a potential, probable contamination and we chose not to purchase that site,” Higham said. “CN was not flagged as a probable contamination at that [provincial] level.”

The mayor added that bore hole testing conducted by independent engineers showed no contamination and the full environmental impact assessment conducted by the province did not flag contaminated soil as a potential problem.

“If there’s a question about due diligence, I think it’s important that the community understands just how much has gone into that,” Higham said, “and that’s how we got here, [there] was no evidence whatsoever through all of those steps and all of those independent looks.”

CN’s the ‘villain’

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken said he was critical of Crandall when the flood control project had to be redesigned because bids for the original project came in at double the costs that had been projected.

But he suggested that having spent part of the weekend digging for a buried septic tank on his own lawn, he realizes it would take time to find and remove contaminated soil.

“The real villain here is the CN Rail who indiscriminately buried large tonnes of toxic junk and now we’re expected to clean it up,” Aiken said. “I realize going after CN is a completely fruitless exercise because they have more lawyers than we do.”

Aiken agreed with other councillors, including Michael Tower, who said that in spite of the costs, the town was doing the right thing by removing the contaminated soil.

4-2 decision

In the end, the deputy mayor seconded Councillor Tower’s motion to allocate $125,000 to dispose of the contaminated soil.

Councillors Andrew Black and Joyce O’Neil also voted for the motion, while Councillors Butcher and Mesheau voted against.

Councillors Bill Evans and Bruce Phinney could not attend Monday’s noonday meeting.

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

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Sackville Town Council approves ATVs on busy streets

Coun. Andrew Black moved motion to approve ATV bylaw

In a 6-1 vote, Sackville Town Council passed a bylaw on Tuesday authorizing all-terrain vehicles to mix with regular traffic, including inter-provincial buses as well as fuel and transport trucks, on Mallard Drive and most of Wright Street.

Bylaw 258 also allows ATV riders as young as 14 to cross the busy intersection at Main Street on their way into and out of the McDonald’s/Esso parking lot.

If as expected, the bylaw gets final approval from the provincial minister of public safety, ATVs will be able to operate legally in an already congested area where there are five restaurants, two fast food drive-thrus, two gas stations with convenience stores, liquor and cannabis outlets, a grocery store, the Coastal Inn, a Home Hardware and the town’s Visitor Information Centre.

Six councillors, Andrew Black, Joyce O’Neil, Bruce Phinney, Allison Butcher, Bill Evans and Michael Tower voted in favour of  the bylaw with only Councillor Shawn Mesheau voting against. Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken, who has spoken and voted against the ATV bylaw in the past, was filling in for an absent Mayor Higham and therefore, could not vote except to break a tie.

Mesheau said that since council gave preliminary approval to the ATV bylaw last month, he’s received feedback both for and against.

Coun. Shawn Mesheau

“It’s kind of been split down the middle,” Mesheau said, adding however, that even those in favour have questioned whether all-terrain vehicles are designed to operate on paved streets.

He said he’s also heard concerns about the lack of law enforcement with ATVs already operating illegally in the area as well as in more remote parts of town such as on Walker Road and King Street.

“I know the RCMP kind of signed off on this [bylaw],” Mesheau said, “but I’m not sure the RCMP provided us with any kind of detail as to how they plan on approaching that in the Mallard Drive area and how they plan on enforcing it.”

Age restrictions

Later, during the public question period, both the town’s chief administrator, Phil Handrahan and Councillor Bill Evans said that as far as they knew, only licensed drivers over age 16, would be allowed to operate ATVs on the designated streets.

However, Warktimes has confirmed that under the provincial Off-Road Vehicle Act, children as young as 14 who have completed an approved safety training course and who are accompanied and supervised by an adult who has also completed such a course, would be allowed to drive ATVs in the designated area.

For the results of a CBC investigation in which New Brunswick recorded the highest number of ATV and snowmobile deaths in Atlantic Canada, click here.

For earlier coverage, click here.

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Auditor gives Sackville clean bill of health as councillors hear good news & bad from other levels of gov’t

Treasurer Michael Beal

At its regular meeting on Tuesday, Sackville Town Council approved the 2018 financial audit showing that the town ended last year with a small operating surplus of $62,888 and a half million dollar drop in its long-term debt.

“Overall, 2018 was a good year,” Treasurer Michael Beal said later during an interview. “It was probably one of the better years we’ve had,” he added. “Our revenue was higher than expected and all departments, except for public works, came in under budget thereby allowing us to reduce our needed borrowing.”

A report that Beal submitted to council noted that public works exceeded its budget because of the costs of snow clearing and street patching, while $300,000 in higher-than- projected revenues resulted from such items as increased fees for building permits, the sale of assets, including an old fire truck, and reimbursements from the province for past floods.

To read an excerpt from the Treasurer’s report, click here.

Long-term debt

The 2018 audit also shows that Sackville paid $555,000 more on its long-term debt than it borrowed. The debt fell from $13.7 million in 2017 to just under $13.2 million last year, a decline of more than half a million dollars.

Beal says the town will be able to pay its 25% share of Phase II of the Lorne Street flood control project without having to borrow any money.

Workers installing culverts last week under CN Rail tracks

The $2.9 million project includes a 40,000 cubic metre stormwater retention pond south of St. James Street.

Meantime, Town Engineer Dwayne Acton reported to council on Tuesday that installation of culverts under the CN Rail line, as part of the Lorne Street project, went smoothly last week. He said culverts have also been installed under Crescent Street and excavation of the big retention pond is 85% complete.

Good news and bad

Treasurer Beal reported to council that the town is getting an unexpected, one-time windfall, just over $414,000 from the Federal Gas Tax Fund. The money was set aside in the recent federal budget, doubling Ottawa’s support this year for municipal infrastructure projects.

Beal noted that Sackville is already getting $367,359 this year from the fund for repaving projects.

However, he also reported that the province has drastically cut its budget for improvements to provincially designated highways.

While Sackville will still receive $75,000 in provincial funds to complete the reconstruction of Main Street near the hospital, there will be no additional money in 2019 for other projects such as the $310,000 reconstruction of Cattail Ridge to Bridge Street that was part of the cost-shared, five-year highway plan the town submitted to the province last fall.

When asked whether the $414,000 in additional federal gas tax money could be applied to the Cattail Ridge project, the town’s Chief Administrative Officer said staff would be making recommendations to council soon on the use of that money. Phil Handrahan added that improvements to Cattail Ridge could be included, but he suggested that spending the money on a provincial road would mean the town’s own streets might suffer.

Councillor Shawn Mesheau

He also pointed out that traditionally the province paid all of the costs of maintaining such highways before requiring municipalities to contribute 15%.

Earlier, Councillor Shawn Mesheau urged council to find a way to complete its five-year plan for provincially designated highways even without provincial money.

“We have made a commitment as a council to the folks in these areas,” Mesheau said, “and I think they’ll be looking for some leadership from council to say ‘OK we feel it’s important and we’re going to make it happen no matter how much money is coming from the province.'”

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Sackville set to approve ATVs on town streets

All-terrain vehicle

Sackville Town Council is expected to give final approval this week to a bylaw authorizing all-terrain vehicles to mix with regular traffic on two busy streets and the McDonald’s intersection near TransCanada Highway Exit 504.

At its meeting on April 8th, council gave preliminary approval to Bylaw 258 which would allow ATVs to travel to and from the Visitor Information Centre parking lot, up and down Mallard Drive, through the intersection at Main Street, into and across the McDonald’s/Esso parking lot and then to and from trails at the far end of Wright Street.

It would also give ATV riders direct access to restaurants and gas stations as well as a grocery and liquor store along the way.

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken was the only member of council to vote against first reading of the new bylaw.

“We’ve just finished passing a climate change resolution,” Aiken said referring to council’s declaration of a climate crisis. “This flies directly in the face of it essentially allowing more greenhouse gas emitting vehicles to run around town.”

Aiken also objected to adding more vehicles to an already congested area.

“I drive through it every day and it’s rare the day I don’t see someone doing something stupid,” he added.

Councillor Bill Evans, who voted in favour of the bylaw, said that if it doesn’t work out, council could always repeal it while Councillors Joyce O’Neil and Andrew Black argued that attracting more ATV riders would be an economic benefit to the town.

Letter of support

Trail beside Wright St. that ATVers would no longer need if they win the legal right to travel on the pavement

In October 2017, town council authorized Mayor Higham to write a letter supporting the New Brunswick ATV Federation’s application to the provincial government asking for an exemption from the law that prohibits all-terrain vehicles from operating on public roadways.

The town also sent a draft bylaw authorizing ATV traffic on Mallard Drive, Wright Street and the McDonald’s intersection to the provincial department of public safety which recommended only minor changes.

If, as expected, council gives second and third readings to the bylaw on Tuesday, it will then go back to the province for final approval.

Meantime, Paul Branscombe, President of the Tantramar ATV Club says he’s hoping council will give its blessing to the bylaw.

“Am I optimistic?” Branscombe asked. “You never know with our town council, but there is support there,” he said.

“We’ve done what we can and the RCMP supported it, so hopefully they will move forward with it,” Branscombe added.

For earlier coverage, click here.

Map that is part of the proposed Bylaw 258 showing the Visitor Info. Centre parking lot (far right) and entrance to ATV trails at the end of Wright St. (far left)

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Harvest Supper planned for Fall Fair to fight hunger & celebrate local food

Michael Freeman, manager Sackville Farmers Market

Michael Freeman, manager of the Sackville Farmers Market says he’s hoping town council will support plans for a Harvest Supper that could raise at least $1,000 to alleviate hunger and food insecurity.

In a presentation to town council on Monday, Freeman said the Farmers Market doesn’t need financial support from the town, but is asking council to extend the closure of the parking lot between Goya’s Pizza and the Post Office where the main tent will be set up during this year’s Fall Fair. He explained that the Harvest Supper would be held in the tent on Sunday, September 22nd, the last night of the fair.

“We want to have a 100 person sit-down harvest banquet to celebrate local food in Sackville,” Freeman said. “We think it’s really important to have a celebration of agriculture at the heart of the Fall Fair and the market wants to offer something to the community and do something that’s fun and brings people together outside of our regular market hours.”

Freeman presented a chart showing that the Harvest Supper would cost an estimated $4,530 with the money coming from ticket sales at about $30 each, a silent auction as well as grants from the provincial agriculture department, the Rotary Club and Renaissance Sackville.

He explained that the market hopes to raise at least an extra thousand dollars that would be donated to such groups as the local food bank, the Sackville Refugee Response Coalition and the food pantry at Tantramar Regional High School.

Freeman enthusiastically endorsed Mayor Higham’s suggestion that people who can afford to buy tickets for the supper could donate them to others who might need them.

“Yes, that is a lovely idea,” Freeman said.

Fall Fair activities

At its meeting next week, town council will be asked to approve a series of motions related to the 2019 Fall Fair, September 19 to September 22.

Matt Pryde, manager of recreation programs and events, said council will be asked to approve holding the fireworks display behind the Town Hall on Friday, September 20th, the same place as last year. He said it looks like the Town Hall will become the permanent location for the fireworks display.

Pryde said council will be asked to approve closing streets for the Fall Fair parade which would start, as it did last year, at the Drew Nursing Home and follow Main Street to Bridge, then Bridge to Lorne, ending near the Via Rail Station.

When Councillor Shawn Mesheau suggested it might be better for visitors if the parade followed the old route which passed by the Town Hall and through residential areas rather the more industrial setting on Lorne Street, Pryde responded that there had been few complaints about the new route aside from the lack of shade on Lorne. He added that the town is looking at ways of providing more shade and may place hay bales along Lorne for people to sit on.

However, Pryde said the final decision on the parade route is up to council. “If you guys like the old route, the old route it is,” he said.

Council will also be asked to approve a $3,000 contribution toward Family Day at the Doncaster Farm as well as extending exemptions from the noise bylaw to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights for the musical acts that are booked in the tent until 12:45 a.m.

Councillor Mesheau pointed out that the exemption used to be until midnight and he wondered about the effects of the one-hour extension on older people in the downtown.

Pryde responded that one band did play past 1 a.m. last year and the town did get complaints, but otherwise, residents have understood that the noise exemption is for events that are held just once every year.

Chalk Festival

Later, Pryde said that council will be asked to approve holding the popular Street Chalk Art Festival on Bridge Street, August 23-24. The town has already allocated $15,000 in this year’s budget to support it.

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Small marijuana grow-op could be coming to Sackville if town council agrees

Danny Fillmore and Sari Weinberg have applied for town approval to set up a marijuana growing greenhouse behind their home in Middle Sackville

Sackville may soon have its first legal marijuana growing operation if town council agrees to change zoning bylaws.

Middle Sackville residents Danny Fillmore and Sari Weinberg have applied for permission to set up a 2,150 square-foot greenhouse on agricultural land at the rear of their property on Main Street near School Lane where they plan to grow high-quality, organic cannabis under a federal licence.

However, at its meeting on Monday, town planner Lori Bickford told council the current bylaw does not permit cannabis grow-ops in areas zoned agricultural, although other municipalities in the region are starting to accept such small, micro-cultivation facilities as an agricultural activity.

Bickford served notice that at council’s regular meeting next week, a motion will be introduced asking whether councillors would be willing to consider changing the town’s zoning bylaws to permit small, cannabis grow-ops in an agricultural zone.

If council passes the motion next Tuesday, the regional planning committee would be asked for its comments and a public hearing would be scheduled before council could give an amended bylaw the required three readings.

In an e-mail to Warktimes, Bickford says the process to meet all the legal requirements would take about three to four months.

Farming and business

During a telephone interview, Danny Fillmore and Sari Weinberg said their cannabis growing facility would be near the existing Anderson’s Greenhouse garden centre on School Lane.

Fillmore said he has grown small amounts of cannabis legally in British Columbia and in Sackville, but now mainly produces garlic, kale, squash, carrots and other vegetables in raised beds on his property.

“I think I’m more of a farmer wanting to get into a business,” he says when asked how he would describe himself.

Federal licensing

“We are in the system with Health Canada for licensing,” Weinberg says, “but we can’t move forward unless we have the permission to have the [bylaw] changed and start building on our property.”

She adds that they’re working with a legal team that has extensive experience with marijuana.

Fillmore says they also have a licensed distributor to handle their product and they expect to employ about five workers.

“We even have a company that will be making it into edibles as well,” Weinberg says.

“We’re all set, we’re ready to go,” Fillmore adds, “we just need the blessing from our town.”

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Work continues on $2 million Sackville flood control project in spite of delays

Excavator works on pond south of St. James St. that holds water from recent rains

It’s taking longer than expected to dispose of about 9,000 tonnes of contaminated soil that was discovered during the digging of a 40,000 cubic metre flood retention pond near Lorne Street in downtown Sackville.

Town manager Jamie Burke says the night before contractors were to start hauling the soil laced with petroleum, aromatic hydrocarbons and heavy metals to an Envirem Organics disposal site in Memramcook, the provincial department of transportation told the town it would not allow trucks to use a service road that runs parallel to the TransCanada Highway because of spring weight restrictions.

“That forced us to juggle things,” Burke adds, “because we did have a pile of contaminated material that we expected to transport out with nasty weather starting.”

Burke says the town then arranged to truck about 1,500 tonnes of the soil to Elmtree Environmental, a disposal facility near Moncton.

“We received a very favourable disposal rate from the facility and we had co-operation of the contractor to get that material out without it being any more expensive than it would have been to take the 1,500 tonnes of material to Envirem,” Burke says.

He adds that the remaining 7,500 tonnes will be trucked to the disposal site in Memramcook once the province lifts the seasonal weight restrictions.

Excavation beside CN Rail line for installation of twin culverts under the tracks

Tricky CN crossing

Burke says that on May 6th, a drill crew from Montreal will begin installing twin culverts under the CN rail line near Crescent Street, a job that is expected to take five days.

The 1050 millimetre (41.3 inch) pipes will carry water from the Lorne Street flood control project under the CN tracks. The water will then flow through pipes under Crescent Street into a ditch that drains across the marsh to an old wooden aboiteau.

In an earlier update, the town reported that the tricky operation to push the twin culverts under the railway was delayed by the discovery of a buried fibre-op cable that was lower than expected, forcing the contractor to move the drilling site several feet to the northeast.

Old wooden aboiteau that will handle all of the water from the current phase of the Lorne St. flood control project

Mayor says more will be needed

Meantime, Mayor John Higham says that Lorne Street and the rest of downtown Sackville remained quite dry during the recent rains, showing that the flood control project is starting to work.

However, the mayor adds that ditches and ponds were filling up even though Sackville did not experience conditions that led to record, one-in-one-hundred-year flooding in other parts of the province.

“The one-in-one-hundred, we haven’t even come close to seeing that as yet down here,” Higham warns, adding that the town must prepare for storms that could result in flooding from heavy rains as well as rising seas.

“That’s the terrible combination of getting a one-in-one-hundred that drops the rain inside the dikes and also getting such a storm that it’s pushing a much higher tide outside of the dikes, and how those two interact could be pretty significant, especially with the dikes in the state they are right now,” he says.

The mayor suggests that people who say the town is wasting money by constructing big water retention ponds aren’t looking at the potential for such record-breaking storms.

He was referring to critics such as Sackville resident Percy Best who maintains it would be more effective and much cheaper to clear existing marsh ditches, replace old aboiteaux and work on alleviating flooding that originates in the area west of Sackville rather than concentrating efforts on the watershed directly above the town.

“They’re wasting a lot of money building big ponds with trees and fancy walking trails around them,” Best says. “There are much cheaper and better ways of doing this.”

Posted in Environment, Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 9 Comments