Seaport East deal ends over testing

Contamination discovered by developer forces Town to stop the proposed residential project on Sidney’s waterfront

[Updated: to confirm the cancellation of March 19 open house; para. 13]

Citing the recent discovery of contaminated soil and groundwater on the waterfront property subject to a proposed land deal, the Town of Sidney has put a stop to further negotiations with a developer.

It was the development company itself — Sidney Waterfront Partnership (SWP) — whose environmental consulting firm (SLR Consulting) found the contamination after drilling test holes throughout the Seaport East lands approximately two weeks ago. The Town, stated Mayor Larry Cross, was notified of those findings late last week. The call to halt the project as a result was made public late Tuesday, March 4.

“We are concerned with a variety of issues and the potential liability of the Town,” said Cross in a phone call to the News Review. “We will do an investigation on what we can even do there in the future.”

The testing, Cross stated in a media release, found metals and hydrocarbons in the soil. He said those are not considered hazardous waste, but do exceed contaminated site regulations for commercial and residential land uses.

Councillor Steve Price told the News Review Wednesday that council has been told the contamination could date back to when the site was used by the marine or forest industry close to 100 years ago. Another source, he added might be the fill used on the site about 30 years ago.

“This council has now been saddled with what to do now,” Price said. “It’s just not a good idea to put any residential (development) on contaminated soil.”

He noted that the contamination does not seem to be leaching from the area. He said the Capital Regional District has done environmental monitoring along Sidney’s waterfront without seeing anything.

“It’s there, it’s capped,” Price said, adding the Town will have to explore its options, from leaving it as-is to cleaning it up.

“Rule number one now is how do we protect the Town’s residents from any potential liability?” said Price.

Cross said the bottom line for the municipality is trying to understand what’s there, its risk and how the Town can avoid any liability.

“Given this recent development, council has directed staff to investigate and explore options with regards to the site contaminants.”

As a result, he continued, Sidney has stepped away from the proposed site rezoning and land exchange with SWP.

That proposal had been garnering some strong critics in recent weeks. Residents had called the deal a bad one for the Town and had been asking council to answer the public’s questions. The Town had scheduled an open house March 19 to speak to those concerns but that has now been cancelled.

One of those concerned about the project, Ed East, said the other residents he has been talking to on the subject of the development proposal will meet to discuss how to proceed, if at all.

In a media release late Wednesday afternoon, SWP principal Grant Rogers stated the Town, as the landowner, would ultimately be repsonsible for cleaning up the site. Rogers added that remediation could have been best handled in conjunction with a redevelopment.

“It is SWP’s opinion that the Town should have taken advantage of the opportunity to resolve these liabilities with the partnership’s redevelopment proposal.”

Rogers added SWP will continue to try to lease the existing buildings to add value to the Town.

Price indicated the Town did not know about the contamination. Chief Administrative Officer Randy Humble added staff are scouring their records for any indication the property had these contaminants and what their source might be.

“We’ve all be digging,” he said, noting there was a similar development proposal for the site back in 1998-’99 that was suddenly dropped.

“The files on the land are quite extensive and we are looking through them all right now.”

He added Sidney will look at doing its own, comprehensive environmental study, but that will be up to council.

While the site poses no health hazard, Humble said the Town will come up with options for the site but is in no rush as they do their due dilligence.

The proposal with SWP, however, has ended. Humble says the memorandum of understanding between the parties has been terminated and the zoning amendment process dropped.