For decades, neither the city nor the province has been able to get the people who polluted the west end of downtown Calgary with creosote to pay for its cleanup, but Ken King says his company might succeed where governments have failed.
"We think we can perhaps motivate the polluter," the president and CEO of Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC), which owns both the Flames and Stampeders, told the Calgary Eyeopener Monday morning.
King's comments came hours before CSEC was scheduled to go before city council — again — to ask for public dollars and land and infrastructure for a combined arena-stadium project dubbed CalgaryNext on that patch of polluted soil.
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Despite getting a thumbs-down from the city in response to the initial proposal, King said CalgaryNext is still viable, claiming it's not actually as expensive as city staff made it out to be in a report that pegged the total cost at $1.8 billion when you factor in related infrastructure requirements, financing and the creosote remediation.
King presented the project as an opportunity to finally get the underused land cleaned up, suggesting the original polluters — or their corporate descendants — might voluntarily pony up the cash to make it happen.
"I think what you do is you show them what we want to do and, as opposed to being recalcitrant or reluctant, they might say, 'Hey, you know what, we may or may or not have the liability here, but we like what you're trying to do,"' King said.
"And they may do it from a citizenry standpoint. Or a portion of it."
Canada Creosote Ltd., later known as Domtar Corporation, operated a wood preserving operation in the area from 1924 to 1962, leaving behind creosote contamination in the soil and groundwater, according to Alberta government documents.
The contaminated soil was walled off underground in the mid-1990s but not cleaned up, and it is regularly monitored to make sure it doesn't spread too far into surrounding soil or groundwater.
The city signed a release agreement with the province in 1997 stating it did not cause or contribute to the contamination, meaning the ultimate responsibility likely lies with the Alberta government if the original polluters never clean it up.
King said "the polluter should pay" but didn't elaborate, when pressed, on how exactly the Calgary Flames ownership group might help make that happen.
If polluter won't pay, province might
If the polluters won't come forward, King said the province "may be more receptive than people think" to finally put up the money for remediation.
"We've had some preliminary discussions with them and they're not averse to the notion of talking about whether or not they can participate," he said.
"Now, imagine what they can help cause to happen, if they come at this. We're not asking them for huge amounts of money."
Cleaning up the pollution in the West Village area would cost between $85 million and and $140 million, according to city estimates, depending on how quickly it is done. The faster and more expensive option is estimated to take six to eight years, versus eight to 10 years for the slower and cheaper option.
King put forward even lower numbers, saying a phased approach to the cleanup could cost "maybe as little as $50 million."