The District of Vanderhoof has decided to take action on one of the brownfield sites in town while also looking into alternatives to determine if some of the town’s other prime real estate can be developed on any time soon.
A decision was made by council last year to start a remediation process at the old Kwik Save station. The town budgeted $84,500 to remove the gas tanks and $7,500 for environmental assessment but, mayor Gerry Thiessen feels taxpayers shouldn’t be paying at all.
“[The old Kwik Save and area beside the co-op gas bar] are some of the best functional lands in Vanderhoof, and it’s not right that the tax payers pay more for vacant land when its not being used and just sitting there,” said mayor Thiessen. “It’s not fair these companies make their money, leave it for tax sale and give the bill to tax payers of Vanderhoof for cleanup.”
According to the Ministry of Environment, local governments who become the owners of land due to tax default and failed tax sale are eligible to be exempt from remediation liability. The previous owners/operators retain liability under the legislation but often the problem is there are few if any resources to direct at it.
The old Kwik Save station, previously owned by a private oil company, sat unused for years until the land was eventually sold to the town by default tax sale. The fenced area across the street is still owned by Imperial Oil yet has sat vacant for over a decade. Known and possible contamination on both sites has left the District’s hands tied for future development.
John Skowronski, director of Canadian fuels at the western division of The Canadian Petroleum Products Industry association, says that oil companies do have a legal responsibility to measure exposures and are obligated to continue monitoring the site, however, fully rehabilitating the land has no set timeline.
“We have to make sure its not impacting anyone else, which I think is pretty good,” said Mr. Skowronski. “If the market took off and property in Vanderhoof was going for one million dollars it may speed up [the remediation] process but chances are it will be managed over the long term. In the interim, property may have uses on top while remediation is being looked after so it’s aesthetically pleasing since the property is probably worth less than it will cost to remediate it which becomes the driver.”
There are two brownfield sites in Vanderhoof that have been grassed over. City councillors feel the HWY 16 corridor could use more commercial development, not more parks.
Possible funding opportunities such as the gas tax funds can only be used for the creation of public infrastructure and the Green Municipal Fund cannot be used for remediation. Basically, any money needed for cleanup would be extended directly from tax payers or the town must wait for those responsible.
Brian Frenkel, Vanderhoof councillor and president of the North Central Local Government, says this is one of the biggest issues in the north that isn’t resonating with petroleum producers.
“All along the east west connector there are brownfield sites that companies have walked away from. It’s much easier for them to cleanup in Vancouver because land is worth more. In small communities they are worth less and it doesn’t pay them to cleanup. The government should be saying you spill it you clean it up, simple,” said Mr. Frenkel. “Five years, 10 years, least get in there with a plan.”
During last months UBCM convention, mayor Gerry Thiessen presented Mary Polak, the BC Minister of Environment, a written document proposing that legislation be made regarding timely responsibility for remediation of contaminants left behind. It noted that perhaps funding could also be introduced to assist local governments with brownfield remediating on properties they own.
The Ministry of Environment told Black Press in an email that they do recognize the need to address challenges (and opportunities) surrounding brownfield sites and will include a focus on the issue during the upcoming review of the remediation provisions of the provincial Environmental Management Act.
“Part of mine life is to reclaim the land and put it back to natural wildlife. Why would the oil companies be any different but, what we’re facing is a problem every community across BC is facing,” said mayor Thiessen. “Our community is continually growing and that commercial land should be there for people who want to use it. [Those areas] could be a community centre or retail store but I’m not holding my breath. It’s one of these things that will have to be continually advocated for with a push of government and ministry having a sense of responsibility to clean them up.”