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Disagreement on Human Health Impacts from former Wood Treatment Facility in Edmonton

On February 26th, the Alberta Environmental Appeals Board (AEAB) issued a Report with recommendations related to Orders issued by the Alberta Environment Ministry for the remediation of a former wood preservative facility in Edmonton.

The site had been owned by Domtar Inc. and had been used to treat wood with preservatives from 1924 through to 1987. The property was purchased by a Cherokee Canada Inc. in 2010. Cherokee planned on remediating the site and developing a residential neighbourhood.

The AEAB report deals with a dispute between Cherokee and the Alberta Environment Ministry on whether the property that housed the wood treated facility is remediated and if it poses a hazard to human health. The AEAB report concludes “there is no immediate risk to these residents and other people.”

The Board also concluded the Alberta Environment had no basis for issuing Enforcement Orders against Cherokee. The Board stated that more clean-up of the site is needed, but none of it is an emergency as claimed by the Alberta Environment Ministry.

John Dill, a managing partner at Cherokee, stated in an interview with Global News: “I’m pleased that the decision confirms that the site is safe for the neighbourhood and its residents. We’re anxious to put an end to any further uncertainty by following the process that’s been set out, suggested by the board and minister.”

If Cherokee had not appealed the Order and won, it would have faced a very significant cost in removing and disposing of the contaminated material. The company estimated the cost to conform to the Orders to be in the at least $52 million.

March 7th Alberta Environment Press Release

On March 7th, the Alberta Ministry of the Environment and Parks released the results of analytical tests performed on soil samples taken at the former wood treatment plant along with findings from a human health risk assessment. The risk assessment concludes that contamination at the site is hazardous to human health.

Officials from the Alberta Ministry of Alberta and Parks conducted sampling at analysis of the soil at site of the former wood treatment plant at various times between 2017 and 2018. The sampling program consisted of sampling surface soil and subsurface soils at more than 1,039 locations at the property and collecting/analyzing over 1,457 soil samples.

The results from the analysis of the soil samples indicate 183 samples have levels of contamination that exceed human health guidelines for dioxins and furans. Of these, 96 per cent are located in fenced-off areas. A number of other contaminants of concern for human health are identified in these reports. Remediation of those locations remains the responsibility of the companies previously ordered by Alberta Environment and Parks to clean up the site.

Google Maps view of the Site and Surrounding Properties

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Chief Medical Officer of Health for Alberta stated: “Our highest priority is the health and safety of residents, and we will continue to work towards minimizing any potential health risks to local residents. While these reports show that there are hazards in the areas, these risks are being addressed through the protective measures already in place until remediation of the soil is undertaken.”

Human Health Risk Assessment

Alberta Health issued the finding of the Human Health Risk Assessment. It made a preliminary comparison of the rates of cancer, miscarriages and birth defects in the surrounding neighbourhoods. This initial analysis found no difference between rates in the area near the former Domtar site compared with other parts of the province, with the exception of three types of cancer.

Among people who had lived in the area for 10 or more years, there were:

  • 34 cases of breast cancer in women (16 to 31 cases would have been expected)
  • 14 cases of endometrial cancer in women (three to nine cases would have been expected)
  • 22 cases of lung cancer in men (six to 14 cases would have been expected)

No differences in any childhood cancers were found compared with other parts of the province.

This data on its own does not indicate why there are higher rates for these three types of cancer in the area. Many factors could contribute to an increased risk of cancer, including but not limited to medical history, medication use and tobacco use. Alberta Health will, therefore, be working immediately with federal experts to conduct a field epidemiology investigation to try and identify what population health factors might have contributed to higher rates of these three cancers.

The Alberta Environment press release states, as a precautionary measure, women who have lived in the area for 10 or more years should talk to their doctors about the risks and benefits of starting breast cancer screening at the age of 40. This is a precaution until the results of the field epidemiology study are available.

History of the Site

The site itself had been used as a wood preservative plant by Domtar Inc. from 1924 until 1987. The plant manufactured “treated” wood products such as railway ties and telephone poles. The wood products were treated with chemical preservatives, such as creosote, to prolong their lifespan.

Between 1987 and 2008, the plant was decommissioned and Domtar conducted a partial remediation of the property including soil testing. Contamination remains in the subsurface including creosote, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins and furans.

Cherokee Canada Inc. bought the site from Domtar in 2010 for $1.8 million. The purchase of the property is made with the company fully aware of the contamination at the site and with the acknowledgement by the Alberta Environment Ministry of a remediation plan to clean-up the property prior to redeveloping it for residential use.

Between 2011 and 2016, Cherokee Canada Inc. works on its remediation plan. Part of the plan consists of constructing a berm with contaminated soil from the site and covering it with clean soil. Cherokee Canada Inc. claims the berm structure contains contamination and that natural attention of the organic contaminants in the soil will occur over decades.

A 2013 environmental risk assessment conducted by Cherokee Canada Inc.
concludes that the constructed berm should not lead to any adverse health or environmental outcomes. The Alberta Environment Ministry approves a remediation certificate for a parcel of the site and allows for construction of a residential housing development on the parcel.

By October 2014, the contamination berm is nearly complete. The Alberta Environment Ministry claims that it was the first it had heard of the berm’s construction. The company says the province knew about the project all along and even had representatives on-site from time to time.

In 2016, the Alberta Environment Ministry conducts its own environmental testing at the site and claims that there is evidence of naphthalene in most of the samples, and that the substance is not contained.

Late in 2016, Cherokee sues the Province of Alberta for $126 million, claiming Alberta Environment acted in bad faith by “recklessly” changing its position on the remediation plan after the company had already spent considerable money.

Also in 2016, Alberta Environment issues an Enforcement Order that requires Cherokee to conduct further environmental testing. It also issues an Environmental Enforcement Order against both Cherokee and Domtar requiring further environmental testing in other parcels at the site.

In 2018, the Alberta Environment Ministry said third-party testing at the site found chemicals dangerous to human health. It imposed five enforcement orders on Cherokee, requiring the company to remediate any contamination.

Cherokee appealed the decision, arguing it had already undertaken remediation efforts (as had Domtar), including isolating and protecting contaminated soil from exposure.

The February 26th, 2019 decision by the Alberta Environmental Appeals Board vindicated Cherokee as the Board stated the Orders were inappropriate.

Cherokee Canada Inc.’s Position

In response to the Alberta Environment’s March 7th announcement, Cherokee issued its own press release. In the release, the company claims that Alberta Environment March 7th publication provides unsubstantiated information to community members about potential health risks. It also states that the issue of health risk and the appropriate standards and scientific criteria for remediation for certain chemicals of concern were addressed in by the Environmental Appeals Board in 2018.

The press release also states “We are concerned that the Ministry’s approach is a veiled attempt to influence the Minister’s response to the Board’s independent Report and Recommendations or to attempt to discredit the Board’s findings.”

March 13th Alberta Environment Orders

On March 13, Alberta Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips released her decision on the appeal of the orders issued to Cherokee Canada Inc., 1510837 Alberta Ltd. and Domtar Inc.

In the the newest order, the minister directs the both Cherokee and Domtar to undertake the work on the site within specific periods of time from the issuance of the order. This work includes:

  • Temporary dust control plans (within seven days)
  • Dust control plans (within 60 days)
  • Site delineation (sampling) plan (within 90 days)
  • Site delineation(sampling) (within 150 days)
  • Site modelling identifying all current and historical sampling (within 180 days)
  • Human health risk assessment (within 210 days)
  • Site-specific risk assessments (within 210 days)
  • Reclamation and remediation plans (within 240 days)
  • Long term site monitoring plans (within 240 days)
  • Completion of residential reclamation components (within 280 days)

The minister also issued two environmental protection orders:

  • An order to Cherokee Canada Inc. and 15120837 Alberta Ltd. to conduct sampling and remediation within the neighbouring community and for the berm to the south of the community to address the presence of dioxins and furans.
  • An order to Domtar Inc. to conduct sampling and remediation within the neighbouring community and for the Greenbelt to the south of the community to address the presence of naphthalene, dioxins and furans.

A spokesperson for the Province of Alberta pointed out the AEAB’s recommendations “did not take into consideration the new testing results and health outcomes issued by the chief medical officer of health, as this information was not before the board at the time of the hearings (see below).

Canada: Environmental Issues In Expropriation

Article by Chidinma Thompson, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP

A. Indirect Expropriation through Environmental Regulation

Claims for indirect expropriation may arise through environmental regulatory regimes. Where legislative schemes operate to interfere with existing property rights, such interference may constitute de facto, or indirect, expropriation. One example of a legislative regime that has been the subject of indirect expropriation claims is the federal Species at Risk Act1 (the “SARA”). Under the SARA, the Governor in Council is empowered to make emergency orders to provide for the protection of certain wildlife species.2 The emergency protection order may extend not only to Crown land, but also private property.3 The SARA provides for a limited compensation scheme. The Minister may provide for reasonable compensation for losses suffered “as a result of any extraordinary impact of the application of” the emergency protection order.4 The Governor in Council may make regulations with respect to the procedures to be followed and the methods to be used to determine the compensation.5

The sage grouse order exemplifies how a SARA emergency protection order may give rise to an expropriation claim. The sage grouse order was the first emergency protection order to be issued under section 80 of the SARA. It was issued to protect the greater sage grouse population in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and came into force on February 18, 2014. The sage grouse is an endangered species under the SARA and Alberta’s Wildlife Act.6 Under the Wildlife Act it is an offence to “willfully molest, disturb, ore destroy a house, nest or den” of sage grouse. The sage grouse order restricted activities on 1,672 km2 of provincial and federal Crown lands in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan.

A Sage Grouse (Photo Credit: Miles Tindal / Calgary Herald)

In The City of Medicine Hat et al v Canada (AG) et al,7 LGX Oil and Gas and the City of Medicine Hat, which had interests in the Manyberries oil production site that was affected by the sage grouse order, brought a judicial review and constitutional challenge of the sage grouse order at the Federal Court of Canada. The applicants successfully resisted a summary dismissal motion brought by the Crown and subsequently commenced an action at the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench for $123.6 million in compensation (including accelerated reclamation costs) for de facto expropriation of existing oil and gas mineral rights, leases and rights-of-way. This case is ongoing. At this point, the Governor in Council has not made regulations with respect to compensation. The Crown pleads that the emergency protection order is regulatory and, in the alternative, that compensation under the SARA is discretionary. In the further alternative, the Governor in Council had chosen not to make regulations, and the emergency order did not have an “extraordinary impact” on the plaintiffs.

Another case was Groupe Maison Candiac Inc v Canada (AG).8 This case concerns the second emergency protection order made under the SARA, which protects the western chorus frog. The western chorus frog is listed on the SARA’s list of endangered species as a threatened species in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. The emergency protection order prohibits excavation, deforestation and construction within a two km2 area in the municipalities of La Prairie, Candiac and St-Philippe, Quebec to protect the frog and its habitat. This order was the first time a SARA emergency protection order restricted development on private land.

As a result of the western frog order, Groupe Maison Candiac Inc. (“Groupe Maison”) was forced to reduce its residential development by 171 units after construction was already underway and Groupe Maison had obtained the requisite municipal and provincial approvals. Groupe Maison brought a judicial review of the emergency protection order by way of a constitutional challenge and an expropriation claim. The Federal Court dismissed the application, finding that: (1) section 4(c)(ii) of the SARA is within the federal government’s jurisdiction over criminal law; and protected by the doctrine of ancillary powers, including jurisdiction over peace, order and good governance; (2) the western chorus frog order did not amount to expropriation that required compensation; and (3) the Parliament had already provided a mechanism for compensation under the SARA that applies in “extraordinary circumstances.”

In 2017, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change received three petitions to recommend to the Governor in Council for an emergency order to protect the southern mountain woodland caribou population. The Minister conducted an Imminent Threat Assessment and, on May 4, 2018, determined that the southern mountain caribou faced imminent threats requiring intervention for recovery. An emergency protection order may be forthcoming for Alberta and British Columbia. The SARA public registry and the Canada Gazette will provide updates on this matter.

B. Polluter Pays in Expropriation of Contaminated Lands

Alberta’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act9 (the “EPEA”) is another environmental protection legislation that affects expropriation claims. As one of its purposes, the EPEA adopts the “polluter pays” principle to address contamination. The EPEA includes three regulatory mechanisms with respect to contamination: (1) Part 5 Division 1 concerns the release of substances generally; (2) Part 5 Division 2 concerns contaminated sites designation; and (3) Part 6 deals with conservation and reclamation. Further, the EPEA expressly acknowledges an affected person’s recourse to court through private civil claims.10 Some of the key concepts related to the three regulatory mechanisms are considered below.

Part 5 Division 1 of the EPEA deals with the release of substances into the environment. Under section 112, the person responsible for the substance has the duty to take remedial measures with respect to any release of same.11 Environmental protection orders may also be issued to the person responsible for the substance where the release is causing, has caused or may cause an adverse effect.12

The statutory definition of “person responsible” includes: (1) owner and previous owner of substance; (2) every person who has or has had charge, management or control of the substance; (3) successor, assignee, executor, administrator, receiver, receiver‑manager or trustee of (1) to (2); and (4) principal or agent of (1) to (3).13 The “person responsible’ excludes, unless they release new or additional substances: (1) a municipality in respect of land shown on its tax arrears list, or land acquired by it by dedication or gift of an environmental reserve, municipal reserve, school reserve, road, utility lot or right of way; (2) a person who investigates or tests the land for the purpose of determining the environmental condition of that parcel; and (3) the Minister responsible for the Unclaimed Personal Property and Vested Property Act, with respect to a parcel of land to which that Act applies. Thus, it appears that the notion of “person responsible” is based on one’s relationship to the substance/release only, and not based on the cause of the release.

Part 5 Division 2 of the EPEA provides for the designation of contaminated sites. Under section 129 of the EPEA, the Director may designate a site as a contaminated site and issue an environmental protection order to a person responsible for the contaminated site. The Director must consider several factors before issuing an environmental protection order for a contaminated site, including: (1) due diligence of the owner or previous owner; (2) whether the presence of the substance at the site was caused solely by the act or omission of another person, other than an employee, agent or person with whom the owner or previous owner has or had a contractual relationship; and (3) the price the owner paid for the site and the relationship between that price and the fair market value of the site had the substance not been present.14

The “person responsible for the contaminated site” means: (1) a person responsible for the substance that is in, on or under the contaminated site; (2) any other person who the Director considers caused or contributed to the release of the substance into the environment; (3) the owner of the contaminated site; (4) any previous owner of the contaminated site who was the owner at any time when the substance was in, on or under the contaminated site; (5) a successor, assignee, executor, administrator, receiver, receiver‑manager or trustee of a person referred to in any of subclauses (2) to (4); and (6) a person who acts as the principal or agent of a person referred to in any of subclauses (2) to (5). As was the case with Division 1, the definition of “person responsible for the contaminated site” again excludes municipalities and investigators. In this case, the test is based on the relationship to the substance/release and the property.

In practice, Division 2 is rarely used. Designation will only occur as a last resort when there are no other appropriate tools. There have only been five instances of designation of a contaminated site since 1993 and no environmental protection order appears to have been issued under Division 2. Division 2 offers options otherwise unavailable, including the allocation of responsibility to present and past site owners who may have contractually assumed liability for the pollution, remedial actions plans and agreements with the Director, and the apportionment of costs of remedial work among responsible parties. The Minister may also pay compensation to any person who suffers loss or damage as a direct result of the application of Part 5 Division 2.15

Environmental contamination may affect the valuation of expropriated property. Under the Expropriation Act,16compensation for expropriation is based on the market value of the expropriated land, which is in turn “the amount realized if sold in the open market by a willing seller to a willing buyer”,17 and provable damages. The determination of market value accounts for everything that is present in the site, except for the legislated exclusions found in section 45 of the Expropriation Act.

Contamination introduces issues in valuing expropriated property, given the uncertainty in liability exposure, scope, duration, risk and stigma. Below are some case law on the interaction between the expropriation of contaminated lands and the “polluter pays” principle.

In Toronto (City) v Bernardo,18 the respondent Bernardo was the registered owner of a property and permitted the corporate respondent’s scrap metal business on property rent-free by oral licence to occupy. The City of Toronto served and published notice to expropriate property. The City conducted environmental testing on property which showed contamination, and was advised that clean-up costs for property could be in range of $250,000 to $750,000. The appraised value of the property was $242,500 before taking into consideration site remediation or clean-up costs. Given the estimated cost of remediation which exceeded value of land, the City’s offer of compensation to the respondents was $1. The respondents did not request compensation hearing but refused to surrender possession. The City brought motion for order to take possession. The Ontario Supreme Court granted the City’s motion as the respondents had the opportunity to contest the City’s offer of compensation in proceedings before the Ontario Municipal Board and chose not to take any action to assert claims for compensation.

In Thompson v Alberta (Minister of Environment),19 the claimant had purchased land for the sum of $1 million. At the time of purchase, the land was not part of any property acquired by the Crown for a proposed transportation corridor. The Crown reviewed roadway plan within months of claimant’s purchase and determined that land was a necessary part of the corridor. The Crown expropriated land for $1,025,000. The claimant brought action for increased compensation. The action was allowed in part. The claimant was granted $1,120,000. The Crown’s valuation discounted the value of the property because of the unknown cost of filling or remediating a wetland (which is 50% of the property) for future residential development, which posed an economic challenge for a prospective purchaser. The Court found that the cost of remediation calculated by the Crown was based on premature assumption that land was to be developed in isolation with no possible cost sharing by adjacent developers. The Court, however, recognized that a discount must be applied for market value because of this possibility of remediation.

In Ville de Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu c Cour du Québec,20 the subject property included a grocery store, snack-bar and a retail marina fuel distribution outlet for vessels navigating on Chambly canal, and a gas station for road vehicles. The issue before the Court was whether the costs of decontamination should be deducted from the compensation awarded for expropriation, based on the duty to remediate. It was argued that evidence demonstrated that there was a spill onto the neighbouring property, therefore the question as to cessation of activities no longer applied, and the mandatory provisions of the EQA regarding decontamination was triggered. The Tribunal Administratif du Québec (the “TAQ”) ruled that the total remediation cost of $450,000 be paid by the owner of the property, 9092-9340 Québec Inc. (“9092”) and should be deducted from its expropriation indemnity award. The value of the expropriated property, after deduction of the decontamination costs, was established as being $31,000.

Lock 9, the southern terminus of the Chambly Canal, is located in the town of St.-Jean-Sur-Richelieu.

The Court of Quebec allowed the appeal, holding that the finding of the TAQ was unreasonable and profoundly unfair. Were it not for the expropriation, 9092 could have ceased its activity at its own time, negotiated with a willing purchaser and, based upon the projects of the purchaser, negotiated the decontamination works remaining according to the circumstances. The City deprived 9092 of its right to complete the decontamination work at the time that it deemed the most suitable to its interests and subject to conditions that would have been more favourable. By forcing 9092 to assume the costs of decontamination estimated by the City engineer, the TAQ deprived the owner of the quasi-totality of the value of the expropriated property. The City brought a judicial review application which was subsequently dismissed. The Court found that the systemic analysis undertaken by the Court of Quebec highlights the significant defects and the fragility of the TAQ ruling to assign full liability to 9092 for the estimated costs of decontamination of the property.

Case law suggests that the law is not blind to the causation of the contamination when evaluating the market value of an expropriated property that has been contaminated. Liability for the remediation of contaminated land in Alberta clearly rests with “person responsible for the substance” and, in the rare case of designated contaminated sites, “person responsible for the contaminated site.” Liability for contamination does not run with the land in Alberta.

This leads to the question of what is the intent of the law in respect of a faultless landowner for the environmental depreciation of land in the expropriation context. The principles of statutory interpretation apply to deem the legislature as knowing all the law and the necessary statutory language to give effect to its intention. The EPEA and the Expropriation Act are meant to be interpreted harmoniously as a scheme in cases of expropriation involving contamination. The Expropriation Act is a remedial statute. Accordingly, it must be given a broad and liberal interpretation consistent with its purpose.

Currently, the right of a faultless landowner to recover from a “person responsible” remediation costs in civil claims (whether under the common law or the EPEA) is a chose in action. This chose in action does not appear to be considered in the calculation of market value in expropriation. In the new era of third-party litigation funding, a chose in action for remediation costs is a valuable element that may offset some or all of the discounts associated with contaminated land, even in an open market.

Footnotes

1 Species at Risk Act, SC 2002, c 29 [SARA].

2 SARA, s 80(1).

3 SARA, s 80(4)(c)(ii).

4 SARA, s 64(1).

5 SARA, s 64(2).

6 Wildlife Act, RSA 2000, c W-10.

7 The City of Medicine Hat et al v Canada (AG) et al, Federal Court of Canada File No. T-12-14. See also Federal Court of Canada, Proceeding Queries, Recorded Entries for T-12-14, online: click here.

8 Groupe Maison Candiac Inc v Canada (AG), 2018 FC 643.

9 Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, RSA 2000, c E-12 [EPEA].

10 EPEA, ss 217, 219, 227-228.

11 EPEA, s 112.

12 EPEA, ss 113-114.

13 EPEA, s 1(tt).

14 EPEA, s 129(2).

15 EPEA, s 131.

16 Expropriation Act, RSA 2000, c E-13.

17 Expropriation Act, ss 41-42.

18 Toronto (City) v Bernardo, 2004 CanLII 5760 (ONSC).

19 Thompson v Alberta (Minister of Environment), 2006 ABQB 510.

20 Ville de Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu c Cour du Québec, 2017 QCCS 4832.


The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

This article was first published on the BLG website. It is re-published with the permission of the author.

About the Author

Chidinma Thompson is a partner in Commercial Litigation Group at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP‘s Calgary office. She practices commercial litigation and arbitration, project approvals, environmental defence and compliance advisory. Her practice covers a broad range of sectors including oil and gas, electricity, renewable energy, municipal and land development. She has experience in regulatory hearings before the Alberta Energy Regulator and its predecessors, Alberta Utilities Commission, and the Calgary Subdivision and Development Appeal Board. She has appeared before the Alberta Provincial Court, Court of Queen’s Bench and the Court of Appeal.

Ontario Graphite Ltd. Subject to Control Order Issued by Environment Ministry

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) recently issued an Emergency Director’s Order to Ontario Graphite Ltd. (OGL) related to its mining site in Butt Township, Kearney, Ontario.  An Emergency Director’s Order is issued when the MOECC is of the opinion that inaction of a situation can result in one or more of the following: danger to the health or safety of any person; harm or serious risk of harm to the environment; or injury or damage or serious risk of injury or damage to any property.

Under an Emergency Order, immediate actions and environmental actions must be taken to protect the natural environment and to prevent or reduce the discharge of a contaminant into the natural environment from the undertaking or property, or to prevent, decrease or eliminate an adverse effect.

Photo Credit: NorthBayNipissing.com

Kearney is a town and municipality in the Almaguin Highlands region of Parry Sound District of Ontario, Canada.  With a landmass of 531 square kilometres and a year-round population of 882 in the Canada 2016 Census, Kearney claims to be the “Biggest Little Town in Ontario.”  Butt Township was amalgamated with the Town of Kearney in 1979.

Since the issuance of Director’s Order Amendment No. 1 Ontario Graphite Limited (OGL) has reported to the MOECC multiple exceedances of discharge limits specified in the Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) issued for the Kearney Mine industrial sewage works and Ontario Regulation 561/94 (i.e. including exceedance of limits for acute toxicity to test organisms Rainbow Trout and Daphnia magna, iron, total suspended solids and pH).

As requested by the MOECC, OGL proposed a short term management action plan to address the effluent discharge limit exceedances from the polishing pond until such time that construction can be completed on the industrial sewage works to enhance treatment efficiency once approved by the MOECC through an ECA amendment. OGL further indicated to the MOECC that an application to amend the ECA for necessary modifications to the industrial sewage works is currently being prepared.
Following the MOECC’s review of the short term management action plan and monitoring data submitted by OGL, the MOECC is concerned that measures proposed by OGL will be insufficient in achieving adequate treatment until such time that construction and operation of the proposed modification to the industrial sewage works, subject to the planned application and subsequent approval by the MOECC, if issued, are completed.

Currently, the lime dosing system being used at the Kearney Mine as part of the existing industrial sewage works operation is operated on a batch basis over, typically, an eight hour period during daylight hours.  The enhanced pH monitoring and reporting required by the January 31, 2018 Director’s Order amendment has demonstrated that the pH of the discharge is not consistently meeting the required pH range over a 24 hour period.  Therefore, the MOECC is directing that the operation of the batched system be extended over a daily, 24-hour period to ensure compliance with pH at all times.

In addition to adjusting the lime dosing system the MOECC is ordering a contingency plan be developed to including the use of an approved mobile treatment unit to ensure adequate treatment is achieved if proposed measures are not sufficient in achieving compliance with all discharge water quality limits until such time that modifications, approved through an amendment to the ECA, are implemented.

In summary the Emergency Director’s Order requires OGL to do the following:

  • Conduct an enhanced monitoring program for pH.
  • Ensure that the operation of lime dosing system is supervised by a Qualified Person and that effluent is maintained within a pH range of 6.5 – 8.5 at all times.
  • Retain a Qualified Person to develop and submit a contingency plan to treat the Kearney Mine polishing pond waters.
  • Retain a Qualified Person to submit an amendment to the issued Industrial Sewage Works, Environmental Compliance approval.

The Order was served to the company as well as a number of a company director, the CFO & CAO, and the CEO.

Pulp Mill in British Columbia fined $900K for releasing deleterious effluent

The Mackenzie Pulp Mill Corporation recently pleaded guilty, in the Provincial Court of British Columbia, to depositing a deleterious substance into water frequented by fish, in violation of the pollution-prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act.  The company was ordered to pay a penalty of $900,000, which will be directed to the federal Environmental Damages Fund.  This funding is to be used for the conservation of fish or fish habitat in the Omineca region of British Columbia. The company was also ordered to complete an independent audit of its operations to prevent future incidents of this kind.

The offence relates to incidents in July 2014 and September 2016, when effluent discharging from the Mackenzie Pulp Mill was found to be deleterious to fish. Environment and Climate Change Canada enforcement officers investigated the incidents, and their investigation revealed that the mill’s treatment system had not properly treated the effluent before discharging it, due in part to improper management of the wastewater entering the treatment system. The effluent was deposited into Williston Lake, which is frequented by fish.

As a result of this conviction, the company’s name will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry.  The Environmental Offenders Registry contains information on convictions of corporations registered for offences committed under certain federal environmental laws.

SJC Clarifies Statute of Limitations for Contaminated Property Damage Claims but Raises Questions of Application

by Marc J. Goldstein, Beveridge & Diamond PC

Plaintiffs with property damage claims under the Massachusetts cleanup law have more time to bring their claim than might be expected under the three-year statute of limitations according to a recent ruling by the top Massachusetts court. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the statute of limitations begins running when the plaintiff knows that there is damage to the property that is “permanent” and who is responsible for the damage, pointing to the phases of investigation and remediation in Massachusetts’ regulatory scheme as signposts for when a plaintiff should have that knowledge. Grand Manor Condominium Assoc. v. City of Lowell, 478 Mass. 682 (2018). However, the Court left considerable uncertainty about when the statute of limitations might begin for arguably more temporary property damages such as lost rent.

In this Google image, the Grand Manor condominium complex is visible at the center-right.

In this case, the City of Lowell owned property that it used first as a quarry and then as a landfill in the 1940s and 50s before selling the property in the 1980s to a developer. The developer constructed a condominium project on the site and created a condominium association soon thereafter. As part of work to install a new drainage system in 2008, the contractor discovered discolored soil and debris in the ground. Subsequent sampling indicated that the soil was contaminated and that a release of hazardous materials had occurred. The condo association investigated in early 2009, and MassDEP issued notices of responsibility to both the condo association as well as the city in May 2009. The city assumed responsibility for the cleanup and worked the site through the state regulatory process known as the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (MCP). In the city’s MCP Phase II and III reports in June 2012, it concluded that the contamination was from the city’s landfill operations, that it would not be feasible to clean up the contamination, and proposed a pavement cap and a deed restriction.

The condo association and many of its members filed suit in October 2012 for response costs under Chapter 21E, § 4 and damage to their property under G.L. c. 21E, § 5(a)(iii). At trial, the jury awarded the plaintiffs response costs under Section 4 but found that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that their property damage claim was brought within the three-year statute of limitations for such claims under G.L. c. 21E, § 11A. The Supreme Judicial Court took the case on direct appellate review. If you would like some public liability insurance to help along with a law case, then you may be interested in companies such as Wealth Simple, they can help with personal finance and TFSAs.

Section 11A provides that an action to recover damage to real property “be commenced within three years after the date that the person seeking recovery first suffers the damage or within three years after the date the person seeking recovery of such damage discovers or reasonably should have discovered that the person against whom the action is being brought is a person liable…” Quoting Taygeta Corp. v. Varian Assocs., Inc., 436 Mass. 217, 226 (2002), the Court summarized this as a requirement that the claim must be brought within three years of when plaintiff “discovers or reasonably should have discovered [1] the damage, and [2] the cause of the damage.”

The Court quickly agreed that “the damage” referred to in Section 11A was, for these purposes, the property damages of Section 5 and moved on to the plaintiffs’ contention that the limitations period should not run until they discovered or reasonably should have discovered that the damage was “permanent” or, in other words, not reasonably curable. Until that time, they argued, they could not know if they had a property damage claim because the site could be fully remediated.

The Court examined the application of the statute of limitations in the context of the statutory scheme for investigating and remediating sites in Massachusetts. The Court found that the primary purpose of Chapter 21E is to clean up environmental contamination and to ensure responsible parties pay for the costs of that cleanup. As a result, the statute prioritizes “performance and financing of cleanup efforts, and then considers the calculation of property damage that cannot be cured by remediation and remediation cost recovery.”

In interpreting the statute of limitations, the Court crystalized the question as “whether the word ‘damage’ in § 11A(4) refers specifically to damage under § 5, that is, damage that cannot be cured and compensated by the cleanup and cleanup cost recovery processes defined by the MCP and §§ 4 and 4A, such that the limitations period does not begin to run until the plaintiff knows there is residual damage not subject to remediation and compensation.” In order to have knowledge that a plaintiff has suffered damage that is not curable by the MCP remediation process, the MCP process must have run sufficiently to know that § 5 damages exist – that there is contamination that will not be addressed through remediation leaving the property at a diminished value. Since the liable party is required to determine the extent of the damage in Phase II and evaluate available remedies in Phase III of the MCP, as the Court noted, “[i]t would make little sense to require the plaintiff to independently determine whether residual property damage exists prior to the completion of these reports.” As a result, the Court concluded that the statute of limitations did not start to run until the plaintiff became aware that the site would not be fully remediated in the Phase II and III reports in June 2012 months before they filed their lawsuit. Exactly what constitutes full remediation remains to explored in further cases, as the range of outcomes from achieving background conditions, implementing deed restrictions, reaching temporary solutions, or even leaving just a few molecules of contamination left behind could impact this analysis.

The Court contended that this interpretation of the statute of limitations provides a “prescribed and predictable period of time” within which claims would be time barred, given that there are timetables associated with the production and submission of MCP Phase II and III reports. Under normal circumstances, the Court expected that a plaintiff will know it has a claim within five years of notifying MassDEP of contamination.

Despite the Court’s pronouncement that it had provided predictability for these types of claims, the statute of limitations for non-permanent property damages, such as lost rental value, or for sites where there is a long-term temporary solution in place, remain uncertain. Lawyers and clients evaluating how and when to bring claims for temporary and permanent damages will need to carefully evaluate a range of potential options in pursuing a preferred single case for property damage without unacceptable risk that an uncertain statute of limitation may have run.

The article was first published at the Beveridge & Diamond website.

Beveridge & Diamond’s Massachusetts office assists parties at all phases of contaminated sites, guiding clients through the MCP investigation and remediation process and prosecuting and defending claims in court for cost recovery and property damage. For more information about this practice, contact Marc Goldstein or Jeanine Grachuk.

About the Author

Marc Goldstein helps clients resolve environmental and land use disputes and to develop residential, commercial, and industrial projects. He serves as the Managing Principal of Beveridge & Diamond’s Wellesley, Massachusetts office and the Chair of the firm’s Technology Committee.

Marc provides practical, cost-effective advice to clients with environmental contamination issues, whether those clients are cleaning up hazardous materials and seeking contribution from previous owners or adjacent landowners or facing claims under Chapter 21E or Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) for their alleged role in contamination.

Top 10 Questions to Consider If Sued under U.S. RCRA’s Citizen Suit Provisions

by Beveridge & Diamond PC

No longer only a tool of public interest groups, an ever-expanding group of plaintiffs – including commercial plaintiffs – are using the citizen suit provision of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 6972, to address alleged regulatory violations, seek cleanup of wastes alleged to be causing an imminent and substantial endangerment, and pursue fee awards. In addition, RCRA citizen suits have moved beyond traditional allegations of subsurface wastes migrating to soil and groundwater, and may include claims such as vapor intrusion. In light of this diversified landscape of plaintiffs and media, defendants should consider the following key questions when sued under RCRA’s citizen suit provisions.

  1. Do deficiencies in plaintiff’s pre-suit notice provide grounds for dismissal?

RCRA requires 60-day notice for suits brought under § 6972(a)(1)(A) (violation of specific RCRA requirement), and 90-day notice for suits brought under § 6972(a)(1)(B) (imminent and substantial endangerment). RCRA provides an exception for the notice period for citizen suits alleging violations of Subtitle C hazardous waste management provisions, which can be filed immediately after providing notice. The notice requirement reflects the preference for the government to take the lead enforcement role (rather than citizens), and serves to provide the defendant with adequate information to understand basis of the citizen suit. Evaluate whether the notice satisfies the statutory requirements of § 6972(b), and if applicable, the regulatory requirements of 40 C.F.R. § 254.3. If not, consider a motion to dismiss. Courts routinely dismiss RCRA citizen suits for failure to meet these requirements. In addition, check the law in your jurisdiction for other notice-based grounds for a motion to dismiss. For example, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has affirmed dismissal where plaintiff’s notice only identified waste practices, but did not identify the specific contaminants at issue. Dismissal due to lack of notice typically is without prejudice to refile after proper notice is given, but dismissal may provide strategic or procedural advantages.

  1. Has plaintiff alleged an injury sufficient to satisfy constitutional standing requirements?

A plaintiff must meet the standing requirements of Article III of the U.S. Constitution in order to have standing to sue in federal court. An invasion of a concrete and particularized legally protected interest that is actual or imminent is required to establish standing; the injury may not be conjectural, hypothetical, or too temporally remote. In the RCRA context, standing defenses can be asserted, for example, where there are allegations of an injury to property the plaintiff no longer owns, where the claimed injury is based on future, speculative development plans, or a corporation claims its aesthetic interests have been injured. In such situations, an early motion for summary judgment may expose a plaintiff’s inability to show actual harm, although plaintiffs’ claims of standing are often viewed liberally.

  1. Is plaintiff’s claimed injury redressible by RCRA?

An injury must also be redressible for a plaintiff to have constitutional standing. RCRA provides only forward-looking injunctive relief; not monetary compensation for past costs. Accordingly, suits seeking such compensation are not redressible under RCRA, and thus lack standing. Additionally, where a remediation plan is in place and cleanup is ongoing, the plaintiff may lack an injury needing redress because a court cannot order superfluous relief.

  1. Is there government action that bars the suit?

Certain RCRA citizen suits are barred where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) or the state is “diligently prosecuting” a RCRA or Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) action. Plaintiffs have the burden of proving that prosecution is not diligent. This burden is heavy as a presumption of diligence attaches to government prosecution of actions; complaints about the government’s prosecution schedule or strategy generally will not suffice in themselves. Some courts have found that consent decrees and their enforcement amount to diligent prosecution.

  1. Is there an action under CERCLA that bars the suit?

Certain CERCLA removal and remedial actions will bar a RCRA citizen suit. These CERCLA actions include: (i) state or federal government engagement in a CERCLA § 104 removal action; (ii) federal or state government incurrence of costs to initiate a CERCLA § 104 remedial investigation/feasibility study (“RI/FS”) combined with diligent remedial action; and (iii) a court order (including a consent decree) or an administrative order under CERCLA § 106 or RCRA § 7003, pursuant to which a responsible party is “diligently” conducting a removal action, RI/FS, or a remedial action. RCRA suits are also precluded if they “challenge” a removal or remedial action selected under CERCLA § 104. Courts generally find any actions consistent with initial investigations, monitoring, initial clean up, or negotiation or entry of a consent decree will constitute a CERCLA removal action sufficient to preclude a RCRA claim. Remedial actions barring RCRA claims generally consists of those actions consistent with the permanent remedy.

  1. Is the plaintiff alleging entirely past regulatory violations, or violations of superseded federal regulations?

Many RCRA citizen suits concern activities that occurred several decades ago. If a suit alleges regulatory violations based on claims of entirely past conduct (i.e., the violations are not ongoing), such claims should be dismissed. Courts have also ruled that a plaintiff may not bring suit to enforce federal RCRA regulations where they have been superseded by an authorized state program. (However, suits seeking enforcement of state regulations issued pursuant to a state program

authorized under RCRA are typically allowed to proceed in federal court). All claims of regulatory violations should be scrutinized in light of these simple arguments, which can be applied to quickly narrow the claims in a RCRA citizen suit.

  1. Do primary jurisdiction or abstention doctrines provide grounds for a stay, or dismissal?

The doctrines of primary jurisdiction and abstention have seen success as defenses to RCRA citizen suits in some jurisdictions. Abstention doctrines arise out of concern for the proper jurisdictional balance between state and federal courts, and can provide a basis for dismissal of a federal court complaint. Defendants in RCRA citizen suits most frequently invoke the doctrine known as Burford abstention, which applies in situations where a federal suit will interfere with a state administrative agency’s resolution of difficult and consequential questions of state law or policy doctrine. While some courts have rejected the application of Burford abstention to RCRA citizen suits, the argument has seen more consistent success in suits challenging agency permitting, licensing or siting decisions under state law.

Under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction, a federal court may stay proceedings where a claim involves issues within the special competence of an administrative body. Primary jurisdiction has been found applicable where: a consent order with the state completely overlapped with the relief sought by plaintiff’s RCRA claims; where EPA investigation and remediation had been diligent and ongoing for many years, and injunctive relief ordered by court could be conflicting; and where a state agency had extensive involvement in addressing alleged contamination and federal court intervention could result in delay of state agency response or substantial duplication of effort. Courts have been willing to apply primary jurisdiction to stay (or even dismiss) RCRA suits to allow these types of administrative activities to run their course.

  1. If plaintiff has alleged an endangerment to health or the environment, is it imminent?

To prevail on the merits of a RCRA citizen suit, a plaintiff must establish that an endangerment to human health or the environment is “imminent.” The Supreme Court has ruled that “[a]n endangerment can only be ‘imminent’ if it ‘threatens to occur immediately,’ and the reference to waste which ‘may present’ imminent harm quite clearly excludes waste that no longer presents such a danger.” Imminence may be absent where the endangerment is premised on speculative development plans or contingencies, where there is no exposure pathway (e.g., a claim of endangerment to human health based on alleged groundwater contamination, where groundwater is not used for drinking), or remediation has occurred, and to the extent waste remains, it no longer poses a risk. Imminence can be found lacking in these types of fact patterns, notwithstanding the presence of contamination.

will not likely be met. Risk assessments may also be very useful in showing the absence of a substantial risk, and defendants should evaluate the relative risks and benefits of performing such an assessment. For example, in a recent case alleging vapor intrusion, a risk assessment showed that the alleged vapor levels were many magnitudes below risk thresholds, and even below the risk presented by the same contaminants present in ambient (outdoor) air.

  1. If plaintiff has alleged an endangerment, is it substantial?

If a plaintiff cannot show that an alleged endangerment is imminent, it follows that it that RCRA’s substantiality requirement will not likely be met. Risk assessments may also be very useful in showing the absence of a substantial risk, and defendants should evaluate the relative risks and benefits of performing such an assessment. For example, in a recent case alleging vapor intrusion, a risk assessment showed that the alleged vapor levels were many magnitudes below risk thresholds, and even below the risk presented by the same contaminants present in ambient (outdoor) air.

  1. Can you recover your attorneys’ fees?

Although the majority of fee awards under RCRA are for plaintiffs, fee awards have been granted to defendants, especially where the suit was frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless, or where the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so. Don’t overlook other bases for fees as well. If there is a contractual relationship with the plaintiff (for example, as is common between successive property owners), all contracts should be reviewed for any applicable fee shifting provisions.

In conclusion, if sued under RCRA’s citizen suit provision, consider whether these common defenses or fact patterns apply. Defenses based on notice, standing, or governmental action can provide an early and cost-effective dismissal of the case. Facts showing, for example, speculative alleged endangerment or lack of an exposure pathway should be explored fully in discovery, as they can provide effective defenses on the merits.

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Beveridge & Diamond holds a United States nationwide Tier 1 ranking for Environmental Litigation in U.S. News/Best Lawyers. The Firm’s litigators perform trial and appellate work in enforcement defense (civil and criminal), citizen suit defense, rulemaking challenges and defenses, and private litigation under all major federal and state environmental laws.  For more information about our experience defending RCRA citizen suits, please contact Harold L. Segall (+1.202.789.6038, [email protected]) or Bina R. Reddy (+1.512.391.8045, [email protected]).

This update is not intended as, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. You should consult with legal counsel for advice specific to your circumstances. This communication may be considered lawyer advertising.

This article was first published on the Beveridge & Diamond website.

Canada: BC Court Of Appeal Rules That Contaminated Property Must Be Assessed Using Highest and Best Use

Article by Luke Dineley and Jacob Jerome Gehlen

Borden Ladner Gervais LLP

In a highly anticipated decision for the valuation of contaminated property in British Columbia, the BC Court of Appeal overturned a decision of the BC Supreme Court and set out how contaminated property should be assessed for tax purposes.

The case involved a Brownfield – a contaminated commercial property with potential for economic redevelopment. The property in question had been operated as a retail gas station, automobile dealership, and repair shop. The soil on the property was contaminated, and the contamination had spread to neighbouring properties. The owner of the property was in considerable financial distress. In addition to tax arrears, legal bills, and accounting bills, she was defending a claim from the owner of a neighbouring property. She therefore arranged to sell the property to this owner through a share purchase agreement for $42,363.24, which was sufficient to cover her debts. She also obtained a full indemnity from any legal liabilities she might have in the future regarding the contamination. The existing structure on the property was renovated and converted into income-producing multi-tenant commercial retail units.

Abbotsford, British Columbia

In 2013, the property was assessed for taxation purposes.

The assessor had valued the land and improvements at $975,000. The property owner, Victory Motors (Abbotsford) Ltd. (“Victory Motors”), appealed, and the Property Assessment Review Panel reduced that assessment to $500,000. Victory Motors appealed to the Property Assessment Appeal Board (“Board”), claiming the property had no value. The Board reinstated the original assessment. The owner appealed again, to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. That court found that the Board had erred in law, and remitted the matter to the Board for reconsideration. The Assessor appealed that decision.

The Court of Appeal allowed the Assessor’s appeal and restored the Board’s decision.

The issue before the Court was this: how does one properly assess the value of contaminated land for taxation purposes? The assessor determined that because renovation into a two-storey structure would require remediation, the best use of the property was as it currently stood: a one-storey commercial structure. The assessor’s estimate did not otherwise take into account the presence of contamination. Their approach is known as the “income approach,” whereby a property’s value is determined according to the subject property’s highest possible annual net income. The Board agreed with the assessor’s method and ultimate evaluation.

The Supreme Court, however, held that the Board had erred in law. The chambers judge found that the assessor had ignored the property’s brownfield status, which any potential buyer would have in mind as a risk. The chambers judge further held that the land should be valued not according to value for the present owner, but according to the market in accordance with the BCCA’s decision in Southam Inc. (Pacific Newspaper Group Inc,) v. British Columbia (Assessor of Area No 14 – Surrey/White Rock), 2004 BCCA 245 [Southam]. Because there was no evidence a competitive market for the property existed, the Board’s decision was therefore unreasonable.

However, after the BCSC decision was released, a five-judge division of the BCCA overturned Southam in Assessor of Area #01 – Capital v. Nav Canada, 2016 BCCA 71, leave to appeal refused [Nav Canada]. Nav Canada supports the Board’s income-based approach.

Applying Nav Canada, the Court of Appeal allowed the assessor’s appeal and restored the Board’s decision. The Court applied the “highest and best use” principle of assessment, and found that a multi-tenant retail building was the “best use” for the purposes of assessment. The Court held: “that property has value to its current owner can be a sufficient basis on which to determine its value.” In Nav Canada, the BCCA had held that even where there was no other potential purchaser, “one must regard the owner as one of the possible purchasers.” The Court in this case agreed, and held that “when, for whatever reason, there is no market for a property that has value to its owner, that owner can serve as a proxy for a competitive market.”

Going forward, property owners should be aware that even though there are no purchasers lining up to bid for a brownfield, that property may still be assessed at a high value for taxation purposes. If you are planning on becoming a property owner, then getting in surveyors to look at your property/properties will help with searching for any abnormalities and environmental issues, they will then be able to discuss a valuation. If you live in England you’ll be able to find one by searching for ‘chartered surveyors in london‘, the same can be said for wherever you live, always check to find your nearest and best one, so you know your property is in safe hands.

About BLG

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

About the Authors

Luke Dineley is a partner in both our Insurance and Tort Liability Group and Environmental Law Group in Borden Ladner Gervais LLP‘s Vancouver office. Luke focuses his practice on civil litigation, with an emphasis on insurance and tort law, and environmental law. In the area of environmental law, Luke’s experience includes representing and advising clients on a wide variety of contaminated site issues relating to both commercial and residential properties — including cost-recovery actions on behalf of plaintiffs and defendants. In addition, Luke has represented and advised major companies on environmental regulatory compliance, emergency spill responses, and environmental prosecutions. Luke is also an executive board member of the British Columbia Environmental Industry Association and frequently publishes and speaks in the area of environmental law.

 

Jacob Jerome Gehlen is an articling student at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP‘s Vancouver office. He has a Juris Doctor law degree from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor’s degree from McGill University.