By Dan McNeil
The story of Port Stanley’s harbour divestiture from Transport Canada to Central Elgin (CE) is convoluted, complex and not yet complete. It may never be fully explored and explained. However, in September 2010 CE did accept “ownership” of the harbour lands with a great deal of legal precision in a Transfer Document that included many issues, including infrastructure costs, environmental clean-up, and port operations.
With great pressure, mainly because of Ontario’s Clean Water Act, the federal government agreed to clean up the berm to meet Ontario’s standards for parkland (over and above the $13.4 million to repair infrastructure and dredge). Ontario’s parkland standard is essentially the same standard as for ‘residential’ development. The significance of this is that the land is remediated and “risk managed” to allow the “more sensitive public uses,” instead of remaining ‘industrial.’ The federal government has never done this before, and only did it this time because of public concerns over the regional freshwater intake outside the harbour mouth.
For legal and environmental assessment reasons, the harbour property is divided into four parcels: the east headland (berm), the east pier south, the east pier north and the west pier. The only substantial property is the berm, with some additional land associated with the Dominion of Canada (DOC) Building (also locally known as the Omstead Building) and the land to the south extending to Bridge Street and the bridge. (Let’s call all this the DOC property.)
The berm and the DOC property contained the worst contamination. The DOC property was where oil was offloaded to be transported by pipeline to the Ultramar and Shamrock properties, north up Carlow Road. Contamination discovered at the DOC property by the Canadian Coast Guard in the early 1990s was “covered up” by Transport Canada.
In 2009 Transport Canada promised to get the Environmental Assessment and remediation measures done in two years. Their aim was to do it at the cheapest cost possible. Last fall, after 10 years, the job was largely completed and approved by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE). This was not achieved easily.
First, it took years for the Transport Canada scientists and contracted specialists to find the full scope of the environmental issues. The MOE wanted assurances that sufficient sampling and investigation had been conducted, that no surprises would be revealed in the future. This is the ‘standard’ for filing a “Record of Site Condition,” on the public record.
After years of sampling, light non-aqueous phase liquid (LNAPL) was discovered in one area of the south part of the berm, and of course, also on the DOC property (2015). LNAPL is a groundwater contamination that is not soluble in water and has lower density than water, thus is rises towards the surface on top of the water table. This is also called “free product,” which means it is a petroleum hydrocarbon that exists in the soils in sufficient quantity to migrate and cause health problems. If one digs in the contaminated soil you can smell the petroleum product. For locals walking on the berm over the years this was no surprise.
An Environmental Assessment cannot be concluded while LNAPL exists on a site. Everything had to stop. Transport Canada officials insisted that they would resolve the problem by digging it up at both sites and “biopile” the excavated material on the east headland. “Bioremediation” is an accepted method to solve these problems. Nevertheless, this methodology is not dependable over any measurable time. It takes a long time, measured in seasons and years. The desired results depend on the weather and how the piles are manipulated with bulldozers and water management. In the meantime, the excavations the material came from remain open, awaiting the remediated material to fill the excavations.
Material that is contaminated can be trucked to certified industrial locations where bioremediation can be part of many processes to clean the soil – up to incineration. This can be quite expensive. Transport Canada officials, from the beginning in 2010, said they would not pay to truck material out of Port Stanley. They dug their heels in again in 2015.
The Ultramar property on Carlow road was “bioremediated”, on site, more than 20 years ago. Today’s investigation of that site to propose an additional road into the new subdivision of Kokomo will eventually reveal how successful that was.
Dan McNeil is a retired Royal Canadian Navy officer who served as Central Elgin Ward 1 Councillor from 2010 to 2018. An activist and environmentalist, he also helped establish the Port Stanley Village Association and served as its first president.
Part Three coming soon …