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Did the City of Hamilton overpay for a Brownfield Site

As reported by the CBC, the City of Hamilton recently paid $1.75 million for a brownfield site that once sold for $2.  The property, located at 350 Wenworth Street North, sold for $2 a decade ago and then for $266,000 two years ago.

In the property was purchased in 2013 for $266,000, hundreds of barrels of toxic waste were discovered behind a fake wall.  The barrels contained coal tar byproducts and industrial solvents, and roof tar.  The new owner arranged for the proper disposal of the barrels.  The Ontario Environment Ministry confirmed  in  an e-mail to CBC that the waste had been from the building and it was decontaminated by the fall of 2017.  It also confirmed that the clean-up included the removal of approximately 200,000 litres of liquid waste.

The cleanup of the toxic property has been going on intermittently since 2010 (Photo Credit: Hamilton Spectator) photo

It is not known how much the clean-up of the 800 barrels of toxic waste cost, but the Hamilton Spectator quoted the owner  in 2017 that the clean-up would cost $650,000.

Property records for the building stretch all the way back to 1988, when Currie Products Limited spent a million dollars for 350 Wentworth. Currie ran a tar facility that went out of business there in the late 1990s, and was considered by many to be the company that originally polluted the site. Owner John Currie died in 2013.

Through the years, the building has changed hands multiple times for a wide swath of prices, ranging from that original million dollars, to $610,000 in 2007, to $2 in 2008, to the tax sale in 2016 and now, for $1.75 million. Over that time, building owners fought with each other and the province over who was actually responsible for cleaning up the site, in some cases heading to court in search of a resolution. For each sale, the price of the property reflected what buyers knew about the site at the time.

The city’s purchase of the property is all part of a reshuffling of buildings in the area to create a transit hub for the lower city like the Mountain Transit Centre at 2200 Upper James.

While it appears the city could have saved money by taking over the property when it was up for tax sale, that’s not really the case, officials say. The city does sometimes take carriage of properties after a failed tax sale, but woudn’t do so on a property like this one with environmental issues, Hamilton City Councillor Matthew Green told the CBC.  He added, “The city won’t take on the liability by policy.  The liability is way too big, because you don’t know what you’re buying … you have no idea what could be found or buried.”

The city bought 350 Wentworth St. N., which has required much cleanup over the years. Most recently, 200,000 litres of liquid waste was removed from the site in 2017 (Credit: The Hamilton Spectator)

 

 

 

Who is Charge of Harbour Clean-ups in Ontario?

As reported by the CBC, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) does not consider itself as the lead for the clean-up of Hamilton Harbour or Thunder Bay harbour.  ECCC says, while it is leading an ongoing harbour cleanup in Hamilton, it’s not a role the federal agency usually assumes.

That comes as proponents of cleaning up historical pollution in the harbour in Thunder Bay, Ont., try and sort out who is responsible for spearheading similar efforts in the northwestern Ontario city.

“If your question is, does it need a champion? It absolutely does,” Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said of the importance that an organization with jurisdiction over a polluted site push for a cleanup. “It needs one organization to keep pushing it along.”

“If it continues to be work that is just secondary work for someone off the corner of their desk, then it’s going to be a long, hard, arduous process.”

Efforts to clean up historical industrial pollution at the Randle Reef site in Hamilton’s harbour date back at least 15 years, said Eisenberger, who also used to be the chair of the board for the Hamilton Port Authority.  For years, he said, the port effectively served the lead agency role, coordinating local stakeholders and senior levels of government to move the project forward.

Environment Canada took the reins well into the project’s lifespan, according to Eisenberger and a spokesperson with the federal agency, and only after the involvement of the Hamilton port — who owns the harbour bed at Randle Reef.

In Thunder Bay, determining who should be that advocate has been difficult; the water lots where 400,000 cubic metres of mercury-contaminated pulp fibre sit in the harbour’s north end are owned by Transport Canada but administered by the Thunder Bay Port Authority.

Transport Canada has told CBC News spearheading a cleanup is up to the port, while port officials say they’ve been told by Transport Canada to advise on — not lead — remediation efforts.  The port has pointed to Environment Canada as the most appropriate lead agency, citing its role in Hamilton.

Approximate Area of Contaminated Sediment in Thunder Bay Harbour

‘No standard model’

Just because Environment Canada takes a leadership role in one project doesn’t necessarily mean it will in all cases, a spokesperson with the agency said.

“There really is no standard model for remediating contaminated sites other than that governments try to apply, where possible, the polluter-pay principle,” Jon Gee, Environment Canada’s manager of the Great Lakes area of concern wrote in an email to CBC News.

In Thunder Bay, the industrial companies largely responsible for the legacy pollution no longer exist.

Environment Canada’s lead role in Hamilton was the result of “a long negotiation between the Government of Canada and the other organizations,” Gee wrote. “It is not a role that the Department usually undertakes.”

The jurisdictional confusion in Thunder Bay has caught the attention of at least one legislator in the area.  Officials with the office of Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Patty Hajdu said she has met with members of the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan’s public advisory committee and that she will also discuss the matter with the federal ministers of transport and the environment.

Construction of the Randle Reef cleanup project in Hamilton Harbour

Gee said Environment Canada “remains committed” to working with government and other stakeholders on the project.

In Hamilton’s case, funding for the $139 million Randle Reef project is being split among the federal and provincial governments, as well as Hamilton, Burlington, the Hamilton Port Authority and Stelco, a steel company based in Hamilton. It’s expected to be complete in 2022.

In Thunder Bay, a number of remediation options were presented in 2014 to the public, with feedback going into a report.  Environment Canada has said no preferred option was identified because there is no lead agency on the project. Cost estimates at the time ranged anywhere from $30 million to $90 million.

Status of Hamilton Harbour Clean-up

As reported in the Hamilton Spectator, Hamilton Harbour still has an undetermined number of years to go before it can meet water quality and ecological standards acceptable to the International Joint Commission.  The Canada/U.S. bilateral agency that oversees cross-border water issues said in a statement this week that — after three decades — it is growing restless about the slow pace of Great Lakes water improvements on both sides of the border.

“The IJC identifies specific gaps in achieving the human health objectives … for drinkable, swimmable and fishable waters, and recommends that the governments set an accelerated and fixed period of time for effectively achieving zero discharge of inadequately treated or untreated sewage into the Great Lakes,” the agency says.

More than 30 years ago, the commission deemed 43 “areas of concern” on the Great Lakes — including Hamilton Harbour — and only seven sites have so far been delisted, three of which are in Canada.

Two big projects currently underway in Hamilton harbour are expected to lead to major improvements in its water quality. The first is the ongoing work encapsulating the highly toxic coal tar blob at Randle Reef. The Randle Reef Contaminated Sediment Remediation Project is scheduled for completion in 2022 at a total cost of $138.9 million spread out over three phases.

The other ongoing big-ticket item is Woodward Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is in the second year of a five-year, $340-million upgrade that will raise treatment to a modern tertiary level. This is expected to dramatically reduce discharges into the bay with most notably a reduction of 65,000 kilograms of phosphorus per year.

Status of Thunder Bay Harbour Clean-up

As reported in TB News Watch, the recommendations in a clean-up report of mercury in Thunder Bay, Ontario harbour have yet to be acted upon.  It has been more than three years since a consultant’s report identified options for the management of 400,000 cubic metres (14 million cubic feet) of mercury-contaminated sediment.

Thunder Bay is located at the northwest corner of Lake Superior and has a population of approximately 110,000.

The source of the mercury in the sediment was industrial activity along Thunder Bay’s north harbour for over 90 years including pulp and paper mill operations.  The sediment is contaminated with mercury in concentrations that range from 2 to 11 ppm at the surface of the sediment to 21 ppm at depth and ranging in thickness from 40 to 380 centimeters and covering an area of about 22 hectares (54 acres).

The preferred solution in the consultant’s report was to dredge the sediment and transfer it to the Mission Bay Confined Disposal Facility (CDF) at the harbour’s south end.  That came with an estimated cost of $40 million to $50 million, and was considered the best choice based on factors such as environmental effectiveness and cost.  The consultants also looked at other options, including building a new containment structure on the shoreline adjacent to the former Superior Fine Papers mill.