Thursday, August 06, 2009


BC Rail: Prime waterfront land in North Vancouver worth over $100 million, but ...

Federal government sits on $117 million worth of prime toxic land
Squamish Nation hopes to develop it but first it must be cleaned up, and that's where the problem starts

By David Karp
Vancouver Sun - August 6, 2009

METRO VANCOUVER — It's prime waterfront land in North Vancouver worth well over $100 million. But it's not teeming with overpriced condos and luxury townhomes. It's sitting empty. {Snip} ...

But despite the numerous political commitments to clean up the land, the site is still a mess, caught up in a tangled web of court cases and finger-pointing.

The issue stems from the Vancouver Wharves site, a cargo terminal next door to the Pacific Environment Centre lands.

Most of the Vancouver Wharves site is not on the property leased by the federal government. However, when it took over the site in 1974, the government subleased a 10-acre portion of its Pacific Environment Centre land to Vancouver Wharves.

In 1993, BC Rail purchased the Vancouver Wharves operation, acquiring the sublease with the federal government in the process. The Crown corporation used the subleased portion of the lands as a rail yard for trains that transport ore.

The federal government alleges that ore spilled during the loading and unloading of those trains, resulting in contamination of the Pacific Environment Centre land. In 2002, the federal government launched a civil court case against BC Rail and Vancouver Wharves, seeking damages for the contamination. In 2004, the federal government launched another court case, attempting to evict BC Rail from the chunk of land it was subleasing. {Snip} ...

Officials at BC Rail declined to comment on the allegations.

"It is probably one of the most costly [federal sites in B.C.] to clean up. I'm not sure if I could say it's one of the most hazardous," said Vic Enns, Environment Canada's remediation manager for the Pacific Environment Centre site.

The 2004 case was settled out of court in August 2007, with BC Rail agreeing to vacate the Pacific Environment Centre site in June of this year and pay an undisclosed sum to the federal government for rent. The parties are scheduled to return to court in February 2010 to address any remaining issues.

But the 2002 case over who should pay for the cleanup is still unresolved.

According to BC Rail's 2007 financial statements, the parties reached an agreement in principle in February 2008. "The [agreement] will form the basis of the negotiations of a final agreement that is to be negotiated over the next 12 months," the documents said.

{Snip} ...

However, some progress with the cleanup has been made. In 2007, with BC Rail looking to unload assets, the Vancouver Wharves site changed hands. Texas-based Kinder Morgan, a publicly traded energy transportation company, signed a 40-year lease for the site with BCR Properties Ltd., a subsidiary of BC Rail.

The agreement cost Kinder Morgan $40 million and required it to take on "unspecified liabilities," The Vancouver Sun reported in 2007.

Kinder Morgan's lease covered the main Vancouver Wharves site, as well as the small subleased portion on the Pacific Environment Centre land. However, with the sublease expiring in June as a result of the 2004 court case between the federal government and BC Rail, Kinder Morgan has been building a new rail yard with modern environmental controls.

"There is a containment area that's been installed. This is a new piece of rail that is replacing the old piece of rail ... [so we can] move off the Pacific Environment Centre site," said Lexa Hobenshield, manager of external relations for Kinder Morgan.

"Technology and care for the environment have come a long way since the site was originally installed. We're using the latest environmental standards to do that work."

Kinder Morgan signed a 10-year agreement in December with multinational consulting firm Arcadis. The company will assist Kinder Morgan in cleaning up the contamination on the main Vancouver Wharves site. However, Hobenshield stressed that Kinder Morgan would not be involved in any cleanup of the federal government land, including the subleased rail yard it inherited from BC Rail.

There has also been progress on the government's end. In 2007, Environment Canada spent $500,000 to clean up 1.2 hectares of the 22-hectare property. However, it was an area with some of the shallowest soil contamination on the site. The cleaned-up area is fenced off from the rest of the property to ensure it doesn't become contaminated again.

"That's the first area on the property that has actually been taken completely to the final cleanup stage," Enns said. "As it becomes vegetated, it will become used like other wild spots along Burrard Inlet. Used not by people, but by critters -- birds and small things can get in there. But we just want to keep people out for now."

The federal government has also remediated two other, smaller areas on the site.


The Squamish First Nation has been patiently watching the federal government's actions. When asked if he was happy with the progress the government has made, Chief Jacob chose his words carefully.

"Happy is subjective," he said. "I'll acknowledge the work that has been done to date. I think there are probably not a lot of options that were available other than what they've done.

"They are doing an awful lot of work," Jacob said. "They've made the site like a Swiss cheese, identifying where all the hot spots are, and taking very good steps."

The federal government has presented the first nation with a plan for cleaning up the land, but neither the federal government nor the Squamish Nation would provide details. When asked if the Squamish would help pay for the cleanup, Jacob replied, "Absolutely not."

"All I can say is that we'll hold everybody's feet to the fire on this," Jacob said. "The issue is between Environment Canada and BC Rail right now, and as such, we're best to leave it in their hands. If we are not satisfied at the end of the day, then we'll look at all of our alternatives. Certainly, our dog isn't in this fight right now."

Enns sees a different picture.

"I don't think anyone is sitting back, personally. The key parties are all very engaged at trying to bring this to a conclusion," he said.

So far, the Squamish have been patient. After all, it is a 71-year lease. But the Squamish want to develop the land when the lease ends in 2045 -- or earlier, if the land gets cleaned up and Environment Canada negotiates an early end to the lease.

The first nation's Capilano Master Plan has the Pacific Environment Centre site pegged for high-density residential development such as highrise apartments.

"We're always looking at development. We're a nation of land developers," Jacob said. "Right now, we have nothing firm, but obviously we're not going to let such valuable land sit there fallow. We will want to develop that at some point." {Snip} ...

This is a lengthy, detailed column. See it HERE.


Well, I'm just wondering why Enns wants to keep out people for now. And what exactly do they mean by "for now"? How long is that gonna take? Anyway, thanks for the article.

Regards, Jay.
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