Cost of Sackville's flood-retention pond climbs again as more contaminated soil found
$525,000 is being spent on digging up and trucking away contaminated soil on former CN land
The costs of a Sackville flood mitigation pond continue to climb after more contaminated soil was found during construction.
Although the town followed provincial guidelines and conducted borehole testing on the land it bought from CN, council needed to release $125,000 more for the project at a special council meeting Monday.
The money, needed to have contaminated soil dug up, trucked away and stored at a facility in Memramcook, pushes up the soil remediation costs to $525,000.
"This is becoming a money pit," Coun. Shawn Mesheau said at the meeting.
On April 8, council was asked to approve $400,000 for the removal of an estimated as 9,000 tonnes of contaminated soil. But costs continued to climb after another 5,000 tonnes of soil needed remediation.
"We keep digging the hole deeper, so what if we find more?" Mesheau asked.
According to Sackville Mayor John Higham, the flood retention pond is only a few weeks from completion, and most of the pond is dug.
The total expected cost of the retention pond is $2.9 million, and the mayor said the project is still on budget, with the extra money coming out of a contingency fund.
"When do we stop needing to keep paying and paying and paying and paying for what we wanted?" Coun. Allison Butcher asked at the meeting.
Given the costs, Butcher wondered if more could have been done to foresee the problem with the soil.
Higham said the town followed all the steps in a provincial screening process, "which is about as high as it does go."
"There's not much more we could have done."
A check was done with the province to see if the land had ever been used in an "industrial manner," but no flags were raised at the time.
CN Rail wouldn't comment on this piece of land, but a communications person wrote that CN has a policy, "our lands are generally sold on an 'as is' basis and our commercial negotiations with all purchasers are taking this into consideration."
Higham confirmed that a purchase and sale agreement was drawn up by CN, and "they basically said sign it or you don't get it."
Sackville resident Jeska Grue attended the meeting and said, "I do feel if CN operated on land and did dump toxic substances on it and did transfer the land over to a town that is attempting to complete a floodwater mitigation project …they should bear some responsibility in the cleanup."
The funding for the flood mitigation project is part of a cost-sharing model that sees the province and federal government cover 75 per cent of the total, including soil remediation costs, according to Higham.
This project is expected to be completed soon, but even this work will address only about 40 per cent of a potentially serious freshwater flood, he said.
Higham hopes more flood mitigation projects will be in the works soon, but that will depend on how much funding the town can secure.
Sackville is in the unique position of being at risk of both saltwater and freshwater flooding, he said.
"The town, it's going to face this threat on both fronts for many years to come. We'll probably never solve it but we will mitigate it."