An environmental report obtained by CBC News places strict limits on potential future uses for the former Lantic Sugar property in Saint John.
The 4.5-hectare site is contaminated by eight decades of industrial use and despite a partial cleanup of soil saturated with fuel oil, diesel and heavy metals, no basement or foundation construction is permitted.
"Future building construction is to be slab-on-grade only, with no excavation below the cover material," concludes the Department of Environment record of site condition dated Dec. 20, 2007.
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"Floor slab thickness for future construction is to be a minimum of 300 mm [about 12 inches] cast in place concrete."
The document said the site is not suitable for residential use.
The property is included on a list of "priority" plots of municipally owned land to be aggressively marketed to developers as part of Saint John's newly revealed growth plan to increase the population and build the economy.
John Johnson, a Saint John construction engineer, said the slab on grade limitation makes it difficult for some types of buildings.
"You could definitely build a warehouse — that wouldn't be hard at all," Johnson said. "The problem gets into building multiple storeys.
"The further apart the supports are in the building itself the thicker the [concrete] slab has to be."
Cost might be little or nothing
Johnson said the city would likely sell the property for little or nothing, making the added expense of pouring a concrete pad as much as a metre in depth more bearable.
Another report, this one prepared for city council in August 2008, said some soil on the site has hydrocarbons attached to soil particles but the contamination poses "no threat to persons, animals or plants" and is at a depth beneath the surface that will not migrate with groundwater.
"Their presence does however, limit the use in some areas," said author Terry Totten, who was then city manager.
"You could not plant a vegetable garden in those areas."
The fuel oils had either spilled or leaked into the ground over the decades since the refinery began operation in 1915. Much of the contaminated soil was removed after demolition of the buildings in 2004 and remaining hydrocarbons in the soil were determined not to be a threat to people, animals or plants, said Totten.
Deputy Mayor Shirley McAlary, who was the mayor when Lantic Sugar pulled up stakes in Saint John in 2000, negotiated a 2003 package to clean up the site.
"We made a deal between the city and Lantic Sugar," McAlary said Friday.
"They gave the city $800,000, not in a lump sum, but in payments, and that's how that facility came down. And they cleaned up the site."
McAlary said the site is not suitable for residential development because of its proximity to Saint John port operations.
"It would have to fit in with the port because [it's] a working port, so there's noise from time to time, and you wouldn't want something on this site that just was not going to be able to work well with their operation."