The hole between the Dominion of Canada building and the King George VI Lift Bridge in September 2016.
By Dan McNeil
In 2015 Transport Canada was adamant it was not going to dig up and remove the tons of light non-aqueous phase liquid (LNAPL) pollution on the berm and the Dominion of Canada (DOC) property. The feds would save considerable money attempting to remediate the soil on site. They began plans to contract out the project to transport tons of contaminated soil to a central berm site for “bioremediation.” It was acknowledged that this method of remediation could potentially take many years.
When Central Elgin (CE) Council was informed of this position on the part of Transport Canada the reaction was, to put it mildly, negative. They felt that this decision was unfair, irresponsible, and contrary to the spirit of the 2010 agreement. We had all decided the future of the port was “post-industrial” – fisheries, recreation, and tourism. How could the federal government contemplate open excavations in the downtown area and on the berm in front of Little Beach for possibly years? How would this impact many seasons of summer tourism in Port Stanley? How would this effect the reputation of Port Stanley? Furthermore, given the contamination concerns related to the regional water intake, what mitigation measures would be taken to ensure the contamination in the “bio pile” remained on the berm, not in the lake or harbour?
CE staff raised many technical questions that had not occurred to the Transport Canada planners. For example, did they realize that loaded trucks from the DOC location could not use the lift bridge – both to remove the material and, years later, to replace it? Did they understand that because ownership of the property was with Central Elgin, they were subject to all of the Provincial regulatory authorities, including the Kettle Creek Conservation Authority, the local Health Unit and the Water Management Regime? CE arranged a meeting with all of these authorities and Transport Canada officials. It was a big meeting. However, nobody at this meeting could tell the federal government what they could, and could not, do. Nevertheless, it became apparent to the Transport Canada officials that the mitigation measures that would be required, under public scrutiny, would add costs to the project. They needed to re-evaluate their decision.
Fortunately, CE senior staff were becoming very accustomed to working with federal officials. Aside from the fact that municipalities cannot budget deficits, they actually have much more flexibility in budgeting and operating than the other two levels of government in Canada. CE has good people, good operating equipment, and good leadership. Municipal road projects over the years had produced tons of clean fill throughout the region that could be made available in what could be an important cost saving measure for “all” the taxpayers of Canada.
Seeing different levels of government working together, putting aside their bureaucratic tendencies, to apply innovation and common sense, is rare. As I have reported before, Transport Canada bureaucrats were dead set against rebuilding the breakwater with the mitigation measures to make it pedestrian friendly. They would not allow the $13.4 million “contribution agreement” to be used for guardrails, lighting and lifesaving equipment. On principle, they did not want the breakwater they had closed off with barbed wire to be once again open to the public. Perhaps they feared this would embarrass the federal government who had neglected Port Stanley’s harbour for the last 30 years? Several years later these same officials were congratulating CE staff for the great job they were doing to rehabilitate the harbour and the village.
Credit must be given to CE’s former Chief Administrative Officer, Don Leitch, and Director of Physical Services, Lloyd Perrin, and to all of their staff, for working diligently on behalf of the residents of the region. A complicated deal was developed to provide the clean (certified by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment) soil that filled up the excavations, as all of the LNAPL contaminated material was trucked out of the village in 2016. It made for a tough tourism season as the work continued in the late fall. This allowed the environmental assessment to be continued to its completion last year.
Meanwhile, I do recall as part of this process that the mayor and Council hosted two important federal Members of Parliament (conservative and liberal) to a special tour of the harbour properties in late 2015 to see how well things were working out.
Other issues including the development of berm risk mitigation measures will be discussed in a future article.
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.
Don’t miss Part Four, coming soon …