February 8, 2002

Moncton Times and Transcript

Moncton polluted river
by Craig Babstock

Environment Canada has laid charges against the City of Moncton for violating the federal Fisheries Act.

The city is accused of unlawfully depositing a deleterious substance in water inhabited by fish in relation to the old landfill located on the banks of the Petitcodiac River. Leachate – formed when rainwater passes through the landfill and becomes contaminated – seeps out of the landfill and into Jonathon Creek and the river.

“Our tests indicate the leachate was acutely lethal to fish,” says David Aggett, the manager of enforcement and environmental protection services with Environment Canada, who was in charge of the investigation.

Besides the city, charges were also laid on Monday against Moncton’s commissioner of Engineering and Public Works Geoff Greenough, Gemtec, the local engineering consulting firm the city hired in 1993 to develop a closure plan for the landfill and Gemtec employee Robert Lutes.

The four parties will appear in provincial court on April 3.

Environment Canada’s investigation began more than a year ago, after the Petitcodiac Riverkeeper brought the matter to the department’s attention. Aggett says upon concluding the investigation, they decided to lay charges.

“We felt based on the evidence it was the appropriate thing to do,” he says.

Aggett adds that charges are only laid after consultation with the federal Department of Justice, which decides if there’s a reasonable chance of conviction and if the action is in the best interest of the public.

Because the case is now before the courts, Aggett says he can’t elaborate on why each party is facing charges.

“All I can say is we believe they are all parties to the offence,” he says.

It’s not uncommon for Environment Canada to lay charges against another government. It’s taken municipalities to court in the past for polluting, as well as other federal departments.

“Our message always has been that individuals and corporations are responsible for their own actions and complying with the law is mandatory,” he says.

Petitcodiac Riverkeeper Daniel LeBlanc was pleased to hear some action came out of the investigation.

“No one in Canada is above the law when it comes to enforcing environmental law in this country,” he says.

Mayor Brian Murphy says he doesn’t believe the city did anything wrong when the dump was closed.

“We feel we followed all the steps necessary,” he says, adding everything they did was based on expert advice from their consultant and approved by the province.

A statement released by the city yesterday emphasized the fact the provincial environment department oversaw and reviewed the city’s efforts as it carried out the closure plan.

But while the province may have been involved, it wasn’t listed amongst the parties charged.

Aggett says their investigation found the provincial government acted under the scope of its authority to ensure compliance with provincial regulations. He explains that federal and provincial guidelines are very different. Provincial rules, for instance, involve making sure the closed dump doesn’t harm humans or wildlife. Those guidelines were not violated.

The problem with the dump is that marine life was exposed to toxic leachate, which falls under the federal Fisheries Act.

The mayor says the city plans to hire the best advisors and find out more about the charges before deciding how to proceed. He says their goal is to get to the truth.

One obvious truth is these allegations don’t look good for the city.

“Absolutely this is a grave concern to the image of the city,” says the mayor. “We’re treating this extremely seriously.”

The city stopped using the dump in 1992 and in 1993 hired Gemtec to develop a closure plan. Two options for closing the dump were presented to the city in 1995, the cost of which would be shared by the city and the province.

One would have cost $13 million and included a cover system, a vent for methane gases to escape and a system to collect leachate. The other plan had a $2.3 million price tag and involved grading the top of the landfill and placing a cover of lime-treated sludge over it to produce a grassy cover. The leachate was to be filtered through a bed of peat moss, which would dilute it before reaching the river. The contaminated peat moss was then supposed to be trucked to the new landfill site and properly disposed of.

The city selected the less expensive plan, but before it was implemented, a draft of the closure report was given to Louis LaPierre, l’Universit_ de Moncton’s chair of sustainable development, to review. Provincial court documents submitted for a search warrant back in April say LaPierre had some concerns with the plan.

The document says LaPierre reviewed the draft and “identified concerns regarding the handling and management of the leachate and possible non-compliance with the Fisheries Act.”

He sent a letter to the city outlining his concerns and said “the proper method to close the landfill should have included capping the landfill to prevent or minimize water infiltration, collecting the leachate and sending it to the Greater Moncton Sewage Treatment plant for treatment.”

City faces fine

The City of Moncton was charged earlier this week by Environment Canada with violating the Fisheries Act in relation to the old dump leaking leachate into the Petitcodiac River. A few facts:

The city could face a $1 million fine plus the costs of rectifying the problem.

Environment Canada’s David Aggett says their main concern is not to see fines given to those charged, but to see the problem fixed.

Aggett says work the city did on the landfill this past year to correct the problem had no bearing on the decision whether or not to lay charges.

In 1998 leachate was staining the soil in one area so an underground pipe was put in place to carry it directly from the dump to Jonathon Creek. The city has fixed that problem.