A group of property owners in the Yarmouth area has launched a lawsuit which claims the town is responsible for contaminating their water.

The statement of claim alleges the town was negligent in the way it handled the decommissioning and disposal of the former Ibbitson sawmill that once operated near Lake George — the largest lake in Yarmouth County and the source of the town's water supply.

Court documents show 13 plaintiffs claim the town was negligent in its management of the site "in a matter that has caused pollution and environmental damage to ground and surface water, soil and aquatic life." 

The sawmill opened in the early 1990s and closed in 2004. It was dismantled the following year after being acquired by the town.

The plaintiffs listed in the court documents declined to comment.

Was a sawmill tank drained properly?

In the court documents, the plaintiffs say the source of the contamination comes from the old 246,000-litre dip tank on the sawmill site. The tank contained a liquid fungicide product used for wood preservation.

There's disagreement between the town and the plaintiffs about whether that tank was properly drained. Councillor Clifford Hood, chair of the town's water utility, said while there may be contamination on the old sawmill site, he doesn't believe it's spreading to neighbouring properties

"Our position is that we have not caused any of the allegations that are being made by those plaintiffs," said Hood.  "There isn't any contamination … Other than from their own sources."

Contamination 'not moving': councillor

The community's fear of contamination began to grow last year when the town spread garbage-filled compost over the former sawmill site. The plan was to spread the compost and then reseed the four hectares of land.

But residents saw trash in the compost in early 2016 and complained. 

Lake George

The Ibbitson sawmill in Lake George closed in 2004. (Google Earth)

The environmental engineering firm Englobe tested the site. They determined the compost wasn't a source of contamination. They did find water or soil contamination was coming from the old sawmill.

"It's not moving," said Hood of the contamination.

Seeking general damages

But the plaintiffs disagree. They're seeking general damages plus costs.

They also allege the contamination on the sawmill site made its way into the well water of three of the plaintiffs listed.

According to the court documents, several of the plaintiffs received a notice from the town in June of 2016 indicating that "contamination is known or suspected to directly impact surface water or sediment on the plaintiffs properties."

Hood insisted this is not an admission of guilt. He said it was a routine notice that the town was obliged to send under provincial environmental regulations.

None of the claims have been tested in court.