The fill site run by Onni Contracting for the proposed final two phases of the Golden Ears Business Park.

The fill site run by Onni Contracting for the proposed final two phases of the Golden Ears Business Park.

Contaminated soil on Pitt Meadows business park land

Residents concerned about fill used where proposed public field to go.

  • Jun. 21, 2017 2:00 p.m.

The developer of the Golden Ears Business Park has been filling the land set aside for phases three and four partly with contaminated soil, which was approved by the City of Pitt Meadows three years ago.

Now, residents are concerned the soil may have been used to fill a portion of the development being offered for development of an artificial sports field.

Megan Mercier sent a letter to the city outlining her concerns about the contaminated soil during the June 13 public hearing on the development.

She wants to warn council what it might be getting into.

“I just want them to understand what’s going on, and I want council to be prepared,” she said.

A portion of the land being developed for phases three and four of the Golden Ears Business Park has been offered to the city to purchase back from the developer, Onni Contracting, to be turned into a public playing field and track.

The land is being set aside by Onni in return for the city allowing the developer to use structural fill materials to fill the development site, rather than the dredged sand that is mandated in a city bylaw. The bylaw also prohibits soil removal and trucking fill materials into the site.

Onni requested an exemption from the bylaw for financial reasons.

Under the agreement, if the development proposal for phases three and four are approved, the city will draw from reserve funds to purchase the sports field land from Onni.

Once that happens, Onni would then gift the city with an amenity contribution of the same amount, to be used for building on top of that land.

Under city bylaws, the city cannot use parkland acquisition money to build on top of parkland; it can only be used to purchase the land itself.

This kind of deal has happened before between Onni and the city. In 2007, Onni gifted the city a $200,000 amenity contribution, which the city later used towards building the Harris Road skateboard park.

That was in return for the city allowing fill materials to be used in filling the site used for phase one of the business park, again waiving the bylaw.

Now, Mercier is concerned the city is moving too quickly through the approval process for the development, and may find itself this time with contaminated land it never bargained for.

“I want to ensure that the city enters into this agreement fully informed and the taxpayers aren’t left footing the bill for any investigations or remediation required before the park can be built,” she said.

Forrest Smith, director of engineering and operations for the City of Pitt Meadows, says an environmental report would be commissioned if and when the time comes to purchase that parcel of the land back from Onni for the park.

If that environmental report detected dangerous levels of contamination, he says Onni would be on the hook for a soil remediation bill, not the city.

“If council chooses to move forward with the application, there will be a number of conditions recommended by staff for council to request of [Onni],” Smith said in an email.

He said an environmental report focused on the section designated for a park would be one of those conditions.

Smith said Onni would also be financially responsible for that report, as well as any other conditions recommended by council.

But Mercier says this is proof that issues are falling through the cracks as the approval process marches on, despite significant public opposition.

“The residents keep asking council what the rush is,” Mercier said in a follow-up email. “Phase two is not yet complete, so residents would like the zoning changes to wait until that is fully leased out to see what the impacts are for Pitt Meadows before proceeding with the last two phases.

“Residents are asking for thoughtful development, and if the city hasn’t put thought into the issues regarding accepting land that is contaminated, how are we supposed to have faith that they have put thought into the development as a whole?”

Under city bylaws, a contaminated soil relocation agreement is required by any developer that wishes to import contaminated soil for use within a commercial or industrial development.

Onni obtained and signed an agreement in March 2014.

According to the agreement, the soil was brought to the Golden Ears development site between March and August 2014 from an Onni-owned development site in Vancouver.

The 5,000 cubic metres of soil, from the Block 100 condo complex at Main Street and First Avenue, contains traces of copper, zinc and lead.

Smith says the contaminated soil is a small portion of the total 567,000 cubic metres of soil required to fill the entire development site.

Since Onni has not kept detailed records of where the contaminated soil has been distributed throughout the building park site, Mercier says it’s now up to the city to determine whether the land allocated for a playing field is safe enough.

The city did commission Dillon Consulting for two investigations into the soil and groundwater quality of the site. Reports of those separate inspections were delivered to the city in March and June 2016.  

Neither report suggests anything being done by Onni in violation of city bylaws. But it does confirm that contaminated soil was brought into the development in accordance to the CSRA.

Smith says because those records don’t exist recording where the contaminated soil was distributed, an environmental assessment would be necessary no matter what.

A spokesperson for Onni said the company will not comment until after a third reading has been scheduled, which could happen as soon as next week.

Council is currently reviewing the nearly 500 documents submitted by residents in opposition to the development during the public hearing.