Nov 3 2001

Kingston Whig-Standard

Bite the bullet on Belle Park
by Paul Schliesmann

Is it science or administrative alchemy? The issue is the Belle Park pollution case, and how city staff have transformed Kingstonians from citizens with concerns about their environment and personal health into potentially overburdened taxpayers.

Kingston chief administrative officer Bert Meunier this week openly questioned the test results that led to the city’s pollution conviction nearly three years ago. The city is appealing the conviction and challenging the validity of the tests performed by an independent laboratory at the request of environmentalist Janet Fletcher. Specifically, water samples were heated during testing with the knowledge that the ammonia in the water would then kill fish test subjects.

Fletcher refutes Meunier’s take on the tests, saying that ammonia is only one of dozens of potentially harmful substances flowing into the Cataraqui River from the site. And she contends proper testing procedures were used.

Her latter point was certainly borne out in the Feb. 24, 1999, decision by justice of the peace Jack Bell, who ruled: “Expert witnesses on either side naturally disagree as to the harmful effects of such chemicals as iron, chromium, ammonia, PCBs and PAHs which emanate from the site. However, the trial evidence is clear that the leachate emanating from the seeps, springs and creeks of this site kill fish and other aquatic life.”

Kingston’s taxpayers have never been told the costs of the original court case. Nor has City Hall revealed what the appeal will cost. Meunier says that capping the site, should such a move be ordered, would cost about $13 million. Digging up the site and removing the garbage would cost $350 million. Council has certainly inherited an expensive problem.

But justice of the peace Bell did not specifically order capping. Nor have there been orders to dredge the site. Instead, the city was ordered to provide Ministry of Environment abatement officials with a plan for capping as well as ongoing monitoring.

City Hall has proven, in the case of underground coal tar residues downtown, that it can deal effectively with serious environmental problems. The old bus barns at King and Barrack streets were torn down and the contaminated ground was largely cleaned up.

The costs of such clean-ups are steep. But when the payoff is a safer, healthier community, the expenditures are worth it. The time has come for councillors to demand a clean-up of Belle Park, for the good of their citizens and the city environment.