Kingston Whig-Standard November 1/2001
Pollution tests unreliable, City Hall says
by Annette Phillips
The city’s decision to appeal a pollution conviction on its former Belle Park dump is in the best interests of Kingston taxpayers, the city’s chief administrative officer said yesterday.
The city heads back to court Monday to appeal a 1999 lower court judgment that ordered it to pay $150,000 in fines and to cap the former dump with clay. Until now, city officials have never given a detailed explanation of why they are fighting the conviction.
Bert Meunier, the city’s chief administrative officer, said Kingston cannot accept a guilty plea when there is no solid proof that the Belle Park dump, closed more than 30 years ago, is harming fish in the Cataraqui River.
“Numerous consultants have told us that in their opinion, nothing harmful is coming out of the site,” Meunier said.
Since being convicted two years ago, the city has spent more than $2 million on containment walls and a pumping system to collect and divert leachate to the city’s sewer system.
That interim solution costs the city about $500,000 a year.
Tests are done weekly to determine what, if any, contaminants are leaking into the river, Meunier said.
A clay cap, as ordered by the justice of the peace, would cost the city roughly $13 million with no guarantee that the leachate problem will be solved, the city’s consultants have said.
The city wants to build a marsh and plant trees on the site as a long-term way to purify any runoff.
Moving the garbage that is still entombed on the site, at an estimated cost of $350 million, is prohibitively expensive, Meunier said.
In its appeal, the city will challenge testing procedures employed by environmental activist and Environmental Bureau of Investigation founder Janet Fletcher, who along with the Ministry of the Environment laid the charges.
An independent lab raised the temperature of water samples taken by the complainants, knowing that a strain of ammonia found in the water samples would kill fish when it was heated.
‘Wrong way of testing”
“We think the technical evidence the justice of the peace listened to didn’t take into consideration that this way of testing was the wrong way of testing,” Meunier said.
With a prior environmental conviction, the city is not in a position to accept a guilty plea on Belle Park, Meunier added.
An uncontested conviction would be attached to the municipality like a criminal record and drive up fines should the city be found guilty of an environmental offence in the future, Meunier said.
Kingston hasn’t been ignoring the Belle Park site. As far back as 1997, the city was building retaining walls and monitoring the leachate.
Council has never failed to act on a recommendation of consultants, Meunier said.
“It’s not like the municipality wants to turn a blind eye to this and it’s not like we haven’t spent money,” he said. “We want to do the right thing, but we also want to come up with a solution that is in the best interests of the public.”
Fletcher argues that the city’s court action merely delays a fix that should have been made long ago.
The city’s argument that the tests were flawed is a “red herring” because the ammonia found in water samples is only one of dozens of substances flowing from the dump that could be harmful, Fletcher said yesterday.
She added that nationally accepted testing procedures were used.
Fletcher has been fighting City Hall to clean up Belle Park for almost a decade. Whatever the technical solution, it’s time for the city to stop stalling and start fixing, she said.
“Maybe they should make themselves more compliant with environmental law and they wouldn’t find themselves in this position.”