April 19, 2007

Moncton Times & Transcript 

Landfill clean-up too slow: Riverkeeper
by Brent Mazerolle

Three and a half years after the City of Moncton received a court order to divert Jonathan Creek to reduce the impact of leachate from the former landfill sites, remediation work is still months away.

“It is quite unusual that it would take such a long time to comply with an order from a court of law. Actually, we know of no other precedent,” said Michel Desjardins, chairman of the Petitcodiac Riverkeeper.

The court order was issued in September 2003.

The Petitcodiac Riverkeeper may be upset about it, but municipal and provincial officials say the work is under way. A big part of the delay, they say, was waiting for the larger environmental impact assessment on the Petitcodiac to be completed.

It has now been 18 months since that EIA was released, in September 2005, and city engineer Richard Landry said some of the city’s further delays on Jonathan Creek have been largely caused by waiting to see what the other levels of government would do about the Petitcodiac causeway.

Any work on Jonathan Creek could, of course, be affected by what is done near the river it flows into and the reverse is also true.

However, Landry said the city believes it has come up with a remediation option that will work no matter what happens to the Petitcodiac.

The findings of the EIA were that only free flow (permanently opening the causeway gates or replacing the causeway with a partial bridge) would allow unimpeded fish passage at the Petitcodiac causeway. A free flowing river would, of course, erode some of the river’s banks, widening the Petitcodiac and essentially shortening Jonathan Creek. Should the city line both banks of the creek with an impermeable material to hold back leachate, that structure could one day be partially within the Petitcodiac and cause environmental impacts of its own.

On the other hand, as all Metro Monctonians know, the provincial and federal governments have yet to act on the Petitcodiac, and some doubt the political will is actually there to do that anytime soon. Therefore Landry, his staff and the consultant working with the city have to come up with a remediation plan that will also get the job even if the status quo is maintained.

Landry said of four options they investigated, the city zeroed in on one and is doing detailed channel design for a remediation that will work “no matter what happens.”

“It is our understanding that the city has yet to obtain all the necessary permits to begin the diversion of Jonathan Creek,” Riverkeeper’s Desjardins said. “Obviously, this file has not been given priority status, despite the court order.”

Landry disputes that. “We met the time line (in the court order) to apply for the permits,” Landry said, adding he had his “fingers crossed for all approvals by September 1. The court order says we have 18 months after we have all approvals.”

Landry expects the city would move faster than that. Because of the mud in the area, “we want to work in winter,” he said.

“It is the city’s responsibility to solve the problem,” Desjardins said. “If it has a hard time obtaining permits, then it must fight harder.”

In the meantime, Landry said the city has taken several other steps, buying private land they need at creek side, as well as conducting some of the geo-technical, hydrology, fisheries and archaeological assessments needed.

In the meantime, the Petitcodiac Riverkeeper is concerned that the toxic waste is still trickling down from the former Moncton landfill into the water course and harming the environment.

“We have been patrolling the area recently and we have found disturbing indications of damage to animal life,” said Desjardins.

The origins of the case date back to 2000 when Environment Canada initiated an investigation as a result of evidence provided by the Petitcodiac Riverkeeper that leachate was being discharged into Jonathan Creek. Charges were eventually laid against the City of Moncton, the commissioner of Public Works for the City of Moncton, engineering consulting firm Gemtec Ltd., and an employee of Gemtec Ltd.

The charges alleged that leachate enters Jonathan Creek from the decommissioned Moncton landfill. As well, it was alleged that the landfill closure plan selected by the City of Moncton was not in compliance with the Fisheries Act.

In September 2003, the City of Moncton pleaded guilty to the federal environmental charges related to a decommissioned landfill. A provincial court judge ordered the city to pay a fine of $10,000, to contribute $20,000 to the Jonathan Creek Restoration Committee, and to contribute $5,000 to the federal government’s Environmental Damages Fund.

As well, the judge ordered the municipality to arrange and pay for all work needed to ensure that the landfill meets requirements of the federal Fisheries Act. The remediation costs were estimated at $700,000 at the time.

The city was told it had to monitor the landfill and report regularly to Environment Canada on test results. If there were to be any continuing or new problems, the municipality was to immediately address them.

In April 2006, a provincial court judge found the engineering consultants (Gemtec Ltd.) guilty of breaching the Fisheries Act in relation to their involvement in the Moncton landfill closure project. The decision represented the first Canadian conviction under the Fisheries Act against an engineering firm. Gemtec Ltd. has since appealed.