Thursday, June 30, 2005 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited


Audit highlights

About two-thirds of the Transportation Department's 80 depots are contaminated.

There are inadequate controls over fuel use in the Transportation and Natural Resources departments.

There is insufficient analysis on buying new vehicles.

School boards need to work with district health authorities to ensure teaching assistants have proper training for medical procedures they may have to perform.

The government should provide better reports on the Industrial Expansion Fund.

Auditor general strikes gas
Watchdog finds dozens of fuel-fouled Transportation Department sites

By DAVID JACKSON / Provincial Reporter

About two-thirds of the Transportation and Public Works Department's 80 depots have some degree of environmental contamination that will cost millions to clean up, Auditor General Roy Salmon revealed Wednesday.

Much of the contamination is from diesel fuel and gasoline. The province has remediated 17 sites and another six will be in progress this year.

"If we call all these contaminated sites, I guess we've got a problem," Mr. Salmon said after meeting with the legislature's public accounts committee.

The cost of cleaning each site varies. The cost in Port Hawkesbury was $471,000 over two years, while remediation to start this year in Welsford, Hillaton and Doucetteville is estimated at $500,000 in total.

The cost of cleaning up the 17 sites done since 1996 was $4.3 million, or about $253,000 each.

Mr. Salmon was also concerned that the department wasn't required to inform the Environment Department about its contamination, which made it seem government has different rules for itself than home and business owners.

"Inadequate information, inadequate policies, inadequate processes," Mr. Salmon said.

Environment Minister Kerry Morash later explained that government departments and homeowners are treated the same when it comes to fuel spills.

Neither is required to report past contamination, and both are required to report fuel spills of 100 litres or more.

The province is looking at amending the Environment Act to require reporting of past contamination.

Transportation spokeswoman Linda Laffin said the contamination at the depots generally came from years of use as industrial sites, where oil was regularly changed and machinery fuelled up.

She said neighbours needn't worry about oil.

"There's no off-site contamination from these sites."

Liberal Michel Samson wasn't convinced.

"I think Nova Scotia homeowners that live close to a Department of Transportation depot or Department of Natural Resources depot should be extremely concerned," he said.

He said homeowners who have an oil tank leak seem to have to clean it up immediately, not some time in the future.

"The fact that this has been allowed to go on with the departments basically regulating themselves is completely unacceptable," he said.

Mr. Morash said Nova Scotians who live next to a depot and have a concern should contact the Transportation Department.

"I'm not aware of any health hazard that's associated with one of these contaminated sites to residents who live in the vicinity," he said.

Natural Resources Minister Richard Hurlburt, whose department also has about 80 depots where fuel is stored, said he's not aware of contamination problems at any of those sites.

Mr. Salmon's report also noted many shortcomings in how the Transportation and Natural Resources departments manage their fleets, which include everything from pickup trucks to snowplows and helicopters. They have about 86 per cent of the government fleet.

One of the auditor's concerns was a lack of planning around replacing vehicles. There's no analysis of whether it's necessary to replace a vehicle for a certain location or whether the money should be spent elsewhere, Mr. Salmon said.

There's also no way to tell for sure if employees may be gassing up their own vehicles with a government credit card, although the auditor has had no examples of that happening.

Mr. Salmon also said government employees authorized to use government vehicles to travel to work aren't paying enough for that use.