Fredericton takes another look at former Irving tank farm site on river

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Fredericton takes another look at former Irving tank farm site on river

Plans to revamp Carleton Park on Fredericton's north side include the possibility of a boat launch on the site of the former Irving Oil bulk tank farm.

The land along the St. John River, between the Bill Thorpe Walking Bridge and the mouth of the Nashwaak River, has been vacant since the tanks were taken out in 2003. 

A year after they were taken out, the city wanted to buy the land from Irving Oil.  

With federal funding, it planned to build a Fort Nashwaak tourist attraction on the property, which is believed to be the site of a historic fort, built in the late 1600s.

But that didn't happen.

The city was prepared to pay Irving $500,000, along with a $250,000 tax receipt for the land. But according to news stories at the time, the deal was changed as negotiations neared an end. 

A news release from the city at the time said Irving asked for $1.1 million in cash and wanted the city to take on the future environmental responsibility for the land.

2004 deal fell through

Then-mayor Brad Woodside said that's when the deal fell through.

"They really should have just said, 'Look, we're going to get this property cleaned up and we're going to make a donation of the property, like they have done in many other places," Woodside told CBC's Information Morning Fredericton at the time.

"Because ... there's not going to be a whole lot of people lining up to buy that piece of polluted property. I mean, it's an environmental disaster."

CBC asked the Department of Environment and Local Government recently to speak to the environment status of the land, but no one was made available.

Communications officer Marc André Chaisson wrote in an email: "Unfortunately we will not be able to provide an interview for this request and the sites that you have requested information on are owned by private individuals and companies and it is protected under the Privacy Act. You would need to contact them directly to get any more information about those lands."

CBC News did a story about 10 years ago when soil was taken away from the site.

Last week, the broadcaster again approached Irving Oil to ask if the land is contaminated, and if so, to what extent. There was no response. 

All the negotiations for the deal in 2004 between the city and Irving Oil were done in closed session and aren't on public record.

'We know a little bit'

Jim Scott of Trace Planning and Design, the firm that designed the Carleton Park master plan, said he hasn't seen any environmental impact assessments, or any other documents that might say what contamination is on the site, but he did speak with the Department of Environment and Local Government about the land's viability. 

"We know a little bit about the site," he said. "Obviously with the tank farm, that comes with your usual standard set of issues around that and soil contamination. It's very preliminary but the idea we talked to them about is if it did work here, can we look at the notion of capping the site and developing above that without doing anything below the site? And they said, well, it's worth seeing if it's possible."

According to Dr. Kripa Singh, a civil and chemical engineering professor at the University of New Brunswick who specializes in environmental engineering and waste treatment biotechnology, depending on what the contaminants are in soil, if they're biological in some degree they might break down naturally over a long period of time.

"There are many factors," Singh said. "If it is a long period of time, naturally some of these things will be degraded ... but again, it is also possible that some of these things might not degrade so quickly. Sometimes people intervene and they try to take out the soil and treat that soil. But again, it depends how long you leave that land without any use."

"It is difficult to say how long because that depends on what was the level of contaminants there," he said.

Singh also said that contaminants could seep into the river through soil that is contaminated. If there's a heavy rain, the run off water can carry those contaminants into the waterways.

Vacant since 2004

The land has been vacant and unused since the 2004 deal fell through. 

Former city councillor Marilyn Kerton said there were several complaints from people who live in her ward that the property is unsightly. 

"Many, many times it was an issue in the ward. People have always talked about what an eyesore on the St. John River and how that should be cleaned up."

Kerton said she pushed several times as a councillor to have something done with the land.

"Even if that just had grass and a couple of benches on it that would be an improvement, but unfortunately that just didn't ever happen," she said.

Lease considered

The city is also considering the possibility of leasing the land.

"It is a really nice piece of land, if you can set the environmental aside for a second," Scott said. "It is a wonderful piece of land and a great location. We'd hate to take away any long-term opportunities from the Irvings on that piece of land. 

"So we looked at the idea if the boat facility did work there, we would really keep it quite minimal and make it such that if the Irvings did have a great opportunity in the future we could get out of the way."

Leasing the land also would keep the city off the hook if an environmental cleanup is needed.

"Whatever you do there, you just don't want to get into the ground because the cost of remediation of the site becomes virtually impossible," Scott said. 

"I haven't seen reports on just exactly what the contamination is, but at minimum there's probably some petrochemical issues, which you know is a big deal to fix. So if we go on the site and stay on top of everything, then it becomes more probable than if we're digging into something that would require in-ground structures."

Scott said his firm reached out to the Irving family about the idea, though the city said it hasn't engaged in any talks about the land with the Irvings. 

And though this could be the plan that adds another chapter to the land's long story, any action is still a long way off, said Mayor Mike O'Brien.

"It's a visionary document," he said. "I'd love to see it roll out, but there's been no discussions with the property owner," said O'Brien. "It resonated with the public and the boating community and the fishing community. They'd love to have a spot there."