Nova Scotia Both Pollution Perpetrator And Victim

By Dawn Walton
Globe and Mail
Wednesday, April 6, 2005

CALGARY -- Loren Guenette says his family has endured an array of health problems -- ranging from high blood pressure to heavy-metal poisoning -- since moving to the Lynnview Ridge subdivision in Calgary in 1984.

Insult was added to injury, according to the 50-year-old physical education instructor, as he watched his property value plummet once it was revealed that his neighbourhood was built on land previously occupied by a petroleum refinery that left lead and hydrocarbons in the soil. Now, after four years of bickering over the future of Lynnview Ridge, Imperial Oil Ltd., which operated the refinery there from 1923 to 1975, and Alberta Environment, which has been pushing Imperial to remediate the land, have reached a cleanup agreement. The company must replace the soil, and once permits and approvals are in place, hopes to remove the top 30 centimetres by this fall. The company has also promised to pay $10,000 in compensation to each homeowner for inconvenience related to the cleanup. The overall price tag is confidential, said Imperial Oil spokesman Hart Searle.

It's a good -- albeit slow -- start, Mr. Guenette said, but adds that it still leaves his family in limbo. "We still want to get out," he said, "We want them [Imperial] to give us fair compensation for our home and our health."

It took a flurry of court actions followed by almost 18 months of mediation, but yesterday the Calgary-based company and the Alberta government announced an agreement that both sides hope will finally put an end to the Lynnview Ridge saga. Alberta Environment Minister Guy Boutilier said once cleanup is complete, it will meet the province's environmental standards, and Imperial Oil spokesman Hart Searle said it should also satisfy residents. "This is something property owners there have been seeking for some time," Mr. Searle said.

Environmental issues connected to land contamination have received prominence in recent years. In 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that polluters must be prepared to pay for the damage they cause. The case stemmed from arguments made by Imperial Oil in Quebec that the province put itself in a conflict when it ordered the company to clean up contaminated soil caused by aging storage tanks. The ruling was heralded as a victory for environmental protection and for guarding the health of tens of thousands of Canadians who live in contamination zones such as the Sydney tar ponds and Lynnview Ridge. Mr. Guenette's family is among a handful still living in Lynnview Ridge. There are about 160 homes in the neighbourhood and 86 townhouse units, but only about 20 single-family homes are now occupied. Imperial spent "many millions of dollars" to purchase the vast majority at 20 per cent more than the city's assessed value and those premises currently sit vacant.

Mr. Searle said his company hasn't decided what it will do with the property it owns and it has no plans to purchase the rest of the properties. However, it doesn't mean remaining residents can't approach the company with proposals, Mr. Searle said. The province agreed to spend a few hundred thousand dollars to test soil samples at private properties once remediation is complete -- but Alberta will not test the soil around properties owned by Imperial.