The following submission was received from Lutz Becker concerning the Clock Park [so called] property. We copy it here as received.
The Clock Tower property – a “TROJAN HORSE” for generations to come?
On January 18, 2010 the Council plans to finalize the transfer of the Clock Tower property from Irving and into the Town’s portfolio for an amount of $1.00. Irving’s $1.00-offer to the Town has been standing for many years. However – after acceptance – the Wolfville tax payer might have to foot any cleanup bill later on.
I had written two articles about the Clock Tower property in 2008 and had correspondence with the Hon. Mark Parent, Minister Environment & Labour, on the subject. On May 08, 2008 I filed a FOIPOP request with the Department of Environment & Labour asking for copies of all reports regarding the cleanup of the Clock Tower property. In return I got several hundred pages in total and weighing almost 8 lb.
Some of the questions on my mind became answered by going through the documentation.
An attached copy of the letter from the Department of Environment & Labour to Irving Oil Ltd., dated November 19, 2007, summarizes the entire remediation of the Clock Park property. The letter makes the statement: “no further remediation is required on this site”. Thereafter, the Department takes no liability for this statement. The letter reads: “that no action lies and no proceeding may be brought against the Crown or any employee thereof because of any matter arising out of acknowledgement of remedial activities completed on this site”. The Department based its decision and its statement solely on a review of 10 documents provided to them mostly by consultants hired and paid by Irving. The letter states clearly as well that “the Department has not supervised the work undertaken at the site and does not assume any responsibility or liability for the work, or for notifying future owners, or present or future occupants of the property of the work that was completed”. And the letter than reads: “All future property owners should be made aware of the limitations to land use associated with this site” and thereafter that further assessment has to be conducted “should a future property owner intend to alter the site in any way which may affect the risk (i.e. through the construction of buildings or wells)”.
The Clock Tower property can be used as a park only!
In the discussions on the Clock Tower subject during the Committee of Council meeting on January 04, 2010 the CAO referred to the Department letter as a “clean bill of health”. As outlined above, the letter does not say this at all.
There are significant potential risks present and Councilman Irving (no relations) was told at the Council table: The Town has not done its own and recent assessment on risks involved prior to accepting the Irving offer.
When Deputy Mayor Simpson then tried his “motivational” speech at the table that the property was a generous gift and that it would be a benefit and great advantage to the Town and that the Town should accept it from a generous benefactor and partner, I wanted to find a bucket. He even used the analogy of a “gift horse” which reminded me of the siege of Troy which eventually was destroyed by the accepted gift of the “Trojan Horse”.
· What will the Wolfville resident really gain from this property transfer?
Not much! We lose tax money and we gain a potential risk – one which future generations may have to pay for. Irving on the other hand seems to have a ”winning” situation. It will get rid of the polluted property; it won’t have to maintain it any longer and it will save at present about $11,000.00 in property taxes a year.
Even Councilman Zimmerman’s raised points did not fit well with me that the Clock Tower property might land in the hands of Acadia University if the Town does not accept Irving’s offer and that the Town would have no control over it.
I could not care less if Irving creates a park over there or leaves it as it is or if the Acadia University opens a botanical garden or whatever as long as Wolfville residents are not burdened with unknown future risks and costs.
And from a financial point of view I would have Irving pay property taxes, have the Town save tax dollars on maintenance costs and have the $125,000.00 allocated to the Clock Tower property in the “reserve fund” freed for more important and necessary Town issues.
It really makes me wonder why this property transfer has to be pushed through at this point in time and with almost no public input and participation.
On January 07, 2010 the Canadian Press reported on calls to changes to the provincial law on cleanups of contaminated sites. The Law Reform Commission reviews at the moment the Environment Act and it is predicted that the regulations and responsibilities will be more stringent in the near future.
Councilman Irving brought this point and the question regarding “regulatory liability” to the table. The Town solicitor stated that he does not know when new recommendations of the Law Reform Commission may become law and what the impact of more stringent regulations might be on the outlined agreement between Irving and the Town.
The acceptance of the Irving offer was in a queue for so many years. Why can’t the Town wait a little longer with its final decision until pending new regulations are known and published?
At present everything is based on the latest offer of Irving dated August 04, 2009. The Town solicitor and the Irving lawyer have hammered out the agreement in a way that Irving will have the environmental liability for everything prior to the deal and that the Town will be liable if it does not use the property as a park after the transfer. This seems to be okay at a first glance and would underline the CAO’s statement at the table that risks are “nullified” with this agreement.
I still have the following problems with this assumption of the CAO:
· The actual risks are not assessed and or determined and communicated to the public.
· Insurance coverage has not been reviewed by the Town.
· Provincial legislation holds the owner of a property responsible for contamination (this will not change).
· The Law Reform Commission will come up with more stringent regulations shortly.
· Irving could close business facets and open them again under a different name and/or run them from the Bahamas and the entity with which the Town contracted no longer exists.
Irving requested to keep the agreement with the Town confidential. Under the law, this is not feasible. I know that a FOIPOP request for the agreement was filed with the Town. I am certain that the agreement will be disclosed (legally, the Town has 30 days from the day of the request) after the Council meeting next Monday and after a possible final decision to keep the public in the dark and stupid.
What a farce of this Administration trying to tell Wolfville residents that the Town is governed by principles of transparency and accountability and those strategic goals of increased communication and public participation.
Lutz E. Becker / January 09, 2010