Domtar creosote plant dispute goes to Environmental Appeals Board

Contaminants in soil at a former Domtar wood-treatment operation in northeast Edmonton are properly contained, a company that owns the site argued Monday at an Environmental Appeals Board hearing.

Developer appealing 'excessive' 2016 orders from Alberta Environment and Parks

A sign posted near the former Domtar site, located in the Hermitage area on the North side of the Yellowhead. (Rob Riberdy )

Contaminants in soil at a former Domtar creosote plant in northeast Edmonton are properly contained, a company that owns the site argued Monday at an Environmental Appeals Board hearing.

Cherokee Canada, Domtar Inc. and 1510837 Alberta Ltd. are fighting seven orders issued in 2016 by Alberta Environment and Parks for the clean-up of a site at 44th Street and 127th Avenue in Hermitage.

The site was home to a wood treatment plant that operated from 1924 until 1987. The numbered company purchased the site from Domtar in 2010. Cherokee is developing the site for residential use.

Homes have already been built in the Verte Homesteader neighbourhood, which sits on the western edge of the site. 

Cherokee presented arguments at the hearing Monday.

"We think [the orders are] excessive, and the reason we've appealed them is that we disagree with them," John Dill, Cherokee's managing partner, said in an interview.

Cherokee argues that removing contaminated soil from the brownfield site would cost about $68 million and would not be viable.

"We would have never undertaken this if there was any possibility that we would be obligated to provide a 'dig and dump,'" Dill said.

Domtar will present its own arguments to the three-member panel on Tuesday. The City of Edmonton, which owns a green belt area of land adjacent to the site, is intervening in the appeal and will present its case Wednesday.

The 2016 orders came after dioxins and furans were found in soil sampled from uninhabited portions of the site north of Yellowhead Trail near Hermitage Road. Further orders were issued early in 2018.

The 2016 orders included additional environmental sampling, creating action plans to remove contamination, and conducting human health risk assessments.

Cherokee and the province are at odds over how to interpret the results of the tests, said Dill.

"The disagreement in our perspective is about the interpretation of the science, and which science should rule in terms of making key determinations," he said.

Cherokee claimed Monday that extensive testing has already taken place, and that the land is safe to develop.

Alberta Environment and Parks maintained in its opening statement that the orders were issued in compliance with the law, and that more remediation work is necessary.

Dill said Cherokee had a good relationship with Alberta Environment and Parks until 2014, when there was a change of staff within the department. 

"A new group arrived and seemed to develop a completely different interpretation of everything we've done up to that point, and what we had proposed to go forward," said Dill.

A map shows the former site of the Domtar creosote plant. (CBC)

The two sides disagree over a berm that was built on the site to contain contaminated soil. 

Cherokee said the province approved the plan, but Alberta Environment and Parks claims it never agreed to the concept.

Testing has indicated that topsoil in developed residential areas is not contaminated.

The hearing is scheduled to sit all week and again Sept. 12-14.