March 12, 2001

Moncton Times and Transcript

Leaky landfill probe goes on
by Craig Babstock

If an Environment Canada investigation determines the old Moncton dump is polluting the Petitcodiac River, the blame could be shared by a number of parties.

That’s according to Gary Greene, of Environment Canada’s Office of Enforcement, who was assigned to investigate after the Petitcodiac Riverkeeper made a complaint against the City of Moncton last November, accusing it of violating the federal Fisheries Act.

Greene has to be careful when discussing the case because it’s an on-going investigation that could result in charges being laid. But he can talk about where the investigation is at the moment, what he’ll be doing in the next couple of months, and the possible outcomes. The complaint against the city came after the Petitcodiac Riverkeeper brought in the Environmental Bureau of Investigation to test the leachate that was leaking out of the old dump into the river. Those two groups claim the leachate is polluting the river but have failed to convince officials from the city or the province’s environment department, who came to Moncton in November and said they didn’t see a problem.

Riverkeeper Daniel LeBlanc claims the city is in violation of section 36.3 of the Fisheries Act which states it’s an offense to deposit a deleterious substance into waters frequented by fish.

So far Greene, who’s based in Halifax, has begun conducting interviews and will continue to talk to government officials and individuals from Gemtec, the consulting firm that prepared the closure plan, for the next few weeks. He says they also have to do their own testing, but that has to wait until April because of all the snow that’s on the ground.

While they don’t have their own results yet, they do have those of the EBI, which were provided with the Riverkeeper’s complaint and they seem to be in order.

“The EBI’s people are all ex-environmental people from Ontario and I went through their investigation and it looks like it was well done and the testing was done properly,” says Greene. “They used an accredited lab in Fredericton.”

The EBI is a Toronto-based group of volunteers who investigate possible polluters and take them to court. In the past they’ve won decisions against the cities of Hamilton and Kingston, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and millions more in clean-up costs. They currently have the province of Ontario tied up in a court battle.

The first step for Greene is to determine if the leachate is toxic. If it isn’t, the investigation is over.

“I’d be a bit surprised (if it wasn’t toxic), but that’s a possibility,” he says. “It would be contrary to the EBI report.”

If the leachate is toxic, there are two ways they can proceed. First, they can send the city a notice stating there’s a violation, and an order to clean it up.

Or they can simply prosecute.

“If we feel there’s mitigating circumstances as to the closure — if we determine it wasn’t done properly, that they didn’t follow normal procedures for shutting down landfill sites — we could lay charges under the Fisheries Act against the city and even against officials in the city who were aware of how to close the landfill but didn’t follow it because they didn’t have the time or money,” he says.

Greene says he’ll look at the closure options they had at the time and determine if they chose the right one.

“If they had two closure options and one was a cheap plan and one was a Cadillac plan, and the Cadillac plan was the proper way to do it — and I’m not saying at this point what was done wasn’t proper whoever knew about that and decided to go with a plan that wasn’t a proper plan to cap or close the landfill, whether it’s city officials or any one else associated with the city or hired by the city, could also be subject to charges,” says Greene.

In 1994, when the city selected a closure plan, there were two options from which to choose. One would have cost $13 million and included a cover system, a vent for methane gases to escape and a system to collect leachate and pump it into a sewer for transport to the sewage treatment plant.

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, which was sharing the costs with the province, chose the second plan and said it fell under the guidelines of the Department of the Environment.

Since legal action has been threatened, the fact that the plan was approved by and carried out under the direction of the province is often reiterated by municipal officials and city press releases.

Because the province approved the plan, if it turns out the leachate is polluting the river, could the environment department face charges?

“I don’t know,” says Greene. “I can’t answer that.”

What he can say in general terms, is that when his department conducts an investigation, no one is immune from prosecution. In the past, they’ve even laid charges against the Department of National Defense — a fellow federal department — for polluting the environment.

Greene says provincial environment departments are usually responsible for investigating leachate discharge from landfill sites and whether or not landfills are properly closed. It’s only through the Fisheries Act Environment Canada is able to investigate.

So if it’s the province’s jurisdiction, why is Environment Canada investigating instead of handing it over the Department of Environment?

“I really can’t comment on that,” says Greene.

The investigation will conclude by the end of April or middle of May. If it’s determined the landfill is polluting the river and fault is found, the maximum fine for a first offense would be $300,000 and an order to clean up the mess. A second offense would mean a maximum fine of $1 million, plus costs for clean up.