Friday, February 27, 2004 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Province announces intention to buy three polluted homes

By Matt Hunt Gardner

Sydney - The province has decided it's cheaper to purchase three toxic properties on Hankard Street here than try to clean them up.

Parker Donham of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency confirmed the purchase Wednesday. He said the move came down to dollars and cents. "The cost of remediating in a safe and responsible way ended up being multiples of the properties' actual market values," he said.

"It was more prudent for the province to purchase the properties, rather than paying for one-third of the remediation work under the three-way, cost-share agreement."

In December, the agency closed the deal with 25 Hankard St. resident Richard Chisholm and his parents, who live next door. It is still negotiating with the owners of the third property.

Mr. Chisholm's family, his parents and their elderly neighbours were all supposed to have their properties cleaned over the last two years with 55 other homes, as part of the project to clean up neighbourhoods bordering Sydney's tar ponds and coke ovens.

In the 2001 chronic-risk assessments, done by JDAC Environmental, each of the three homes had levels of arsenic, lead, manganese and fuel-based chemicals high enough to potentially constitute a human health risk.

In June 2002, the province sent Mr. Chisholm a letter, telling him his property would be cleaned up.

The plan included digging up more than a half-metre of soil in his yard and replacing it with clean dirt and fresh sod.

Inside, his basement dirt floor would have been replaced. The basement would have been sealed off and venting pipes would have been installed to remove chemical vapours.

During the process, his house would have been been lifted off its foundation.

When Mr. Chisholm was asked to contact contractors last summer, something not asked of other residents, the lowest estimate for the work was more than $90,000. At the time, his house was assessed at $42,000.

Wednesday, Mr. Chisholm wouldn't say what the province paid, but said he received fair market value for his home.

"I was raised on Hankard Street," he said. "Now I live on Bordon Street, three kilometres away in a smaller house. . . . I miss my community," he said.

He said the main reason that he agreed to sell his home was that he felt it was the easiest and quickest way to get his family into a healthy environment.

The three Hankard Street properties will still be cleaned up, but the homes on them will first be demolished.

The total cost, so far, for the remediation of 55 properties is $1.8 million, which includes $600,000 for administrative and engineering costs.

The cost is being shared equally among the three levels of government.

The agreement ends March 31, a deadline for the tar ponds agency to arrange for the three properties to be cleaned.