June 13 2002

Belle Park fight a costly waste
by Steve Lukits

Instead of dumping more taxpayers’ money into lawyers’ pockets, the City of Kingston should have been spending those public dollars on a long-term solution to stop pollutants leaking from the old Belle Park dump.

Through its remedial actions, the city in fact is admitting there is a pollution threat to the Cataraqui River from the former landfill. To the tune of “almost half a million dollars a year,” according to Paul MacLatchy of the city’s environmental department, tax dollars are paying for pumping excess water from the site and trucking it to Kingston’s sewage treatment plant. Belle Park is also monitored weekly for new leaks.

What MacLatchy calls “a long-term management solution for the site” may be delayed again by a continuing, expensive and wasteful legal battle. It began when the city was charged in 1997 by the Ministry of the Environment, local environmentalist Janet Fletcher and the Sierra Legal Defence Fund. In 1999, Kingston was convicted of seven counts under the federal Fisheries Act and fined $150,000. Instead of accepting that ruling and getting to work to clean up the pollution, the city appealed. This week, a judge did not overturn the city’s convictions but found sufficient legal reasons to order a new trial of the case. Now it’s up to the ministry, Fletcher and the Sierra Legal Defence Fund to decide if they want to appeal the latest ruling and/or go on to a new trial

While the lawyers add up more billable hours to the public purse, the pollution continues. The city’s spin on the latest decision is that the appeals judge “held that in order to convict, it is necessary to determine not just that leachate may be harmful to fish, but whether the addition of leachate to the Cataraqui River was actually harmful to fish in the river.”

That legal hair-splitting is as bad as Kingston CAO Bert Meunier’s spin-doctoring last November. He raised the costly spectres of a $13-million bill for capping the Belle Park dump and $350 million to remove all the garbage. Neither of these remedies were ordered by the court, but raising them may be seen as a scary justification for continuing the legal fight.

Meanwhile, the city is spending about $350,000 annually for pumping and removing leachate so it does not flow into the river, and $150,000 a year for monitoring the site. Yet at the 1999 trial, the city’s lawyer, Peter Doddy, pleaded that “there is nothing wrong with the dump site.” That position is as at odds with reality and environmental responsibility as the city’s unconscionable delay in solving the pollution problem.