DFO Letter re: Sewage Discharge

Elke Blodgett
12 Grantham Place
St. Albert, Alberta
T8N 0W8

May 29, 2004

Mr. John Englert
DFO, Edmonton

Re: St. Albert WRR/former landfill site/ FEAI Ref # 36923

Dear Mr. Englert,

On May 26, 2004, Mr. Dave Burkhart observed that an orange substance appeared to be draining from one of the two filled-in landfill sites (former indiscriminate garbage dump/regional nuisance ground) near the Sturgeon River. It was staining the water that had pooled in a depression in a ditch below the riverside trail. We documented the situation (see photo 242) and sampled the water, including some of the orange substance. Initially, the source of the substance was not obvious. When we later removed some dead vegetation, we found that it originated from a galvanized culvert which seems to have been installed a long time ago. The drainage culvert was pretty badly corroded. The culvert outlet empties into a ditch that leads directly to the Sturgeon River, a few feet away. The purpose of the culvert and ditch appears to be to drain liquids from the old landfill site and empty them into the river.

Alberta Environment was notified by Dave Burkhart (Terry Peck, 422-1721, May 27, 2004) and they tentatively identified the orange substance as rust from the corroding drainage culvert. We also notified the Environmental Coordinator for the City of St. Albert.

On May 27, Alberta Environment met at the site with the St. Albert deputy fire chief and crew and turned the investigation over to the City. The City is obviously as concerned as we are about the “substance”. (The local rodeo participants and their families are camping this weekend a few feet away from the open ditch!)

We give the City credit for reacting immediately once they were made aware of the situation. After inspection of the site, the City had samples taken for analysis and applied absorbent material pads to remove the substance. They also installed a small absorbent boom in the ditch to prevent further release into the Sturgeon River. Subsequent action by the City will depend on analysis by the City’s consultant, EBA Engineering. We do not know if adequate samples of the fluid for the critical and necessary bioassay testing were collected.

However, this immediate reaction/mopping-up operation has destroyed, for the time being, the evidence of the composition of the pooled fluid and staining substances. Should the parameters of the testing require additional sampling, or should we need independent laboratory confirmation of analytical results, this makes further sampling of the actual conditions on May 26, 2004, impossible. (Current heavy rainfalls this weekend, May 29/30, also will dilute any new accumulations from above or under ground.)

The following obvious questions arise:

1.0 Why is the culvert not indicated on the most recent map of Leachate and Groundwater Monitoring Well Locations along the Sturgeon River? (See Spencer West Regional Road/WRR Construction Management Plan for Landfill Leachate Report, March 2004, Thurber map, Feb. 2004)

1.1 How many more, so far undiscovered, culverts are draining the area of the vicinity of the former landfill site/nuisance grounds area into the river?

1.2 Why was the existence of the drainage culvert leading from the controversial landfill site not reported by the City’s consultants in any of the many annual leachate monitoring reports required by Alberta Environment over the past several years?

1.3 Why is the existence of a culvert, which appears to be draining a fill-in former landfill site, not mentioned in the Spencer EIA Technical Studies Geotechnical and Environmental Investigation for the City’s proposed WRR project (Thurber, Sept. 2003)?

1.4 Why is it ignored in the March 2004 $200,000 Spencer Environmental “West Regional Road Construction Management Plan for Landfill Leachate/Environmental Management Plan for Leachate at Abandoned Landfills near the Sturgeon River”, which was requested by Environment Canada in order to “establish a baseline for the assessment of the potential of leachate leaking from the former landfills into the Sturgeon River”? (Council Agenda Report, March 15, 2004)

Until this information is provided, “the City is unable to respond to the concerns expressed by Environment Canada.” (City Council Agenda Report, March 15, 2004) Yet, the City’s consultants are apparently unaware of this culvert and of its discharges from the area of the landfill sites, which they have been responsible for monitoring annually, and reporting to AE.

2. The ditch is normally full of “water”, and its location is well known to local residents. Its existence was reported and sampling the fluid was suggested. The drainage ditch is located very close to one of the older piezometers (W2). It could not have gone unnoticed by the consultants who were monitoring the piezometers. Why was the fluid, which seems to be draining out of the site, not routinely tested?

3.0 Considering the drought of recent weeks, and the fact that there was no surface water pooling evident in the area anywhere at the time, what is the source of fluid which drains out of the area of the landfill site?

3.1 The fluid drains down the slope leading directly into the Sturgeon River from the culvert located about 3m below the top of the dike/trail level. What is the full chemical analysis for this fluid (other than the suspected rust)?

4.0 We believe, at a minimum, a corroding pipeline/culvert is permitting a deleterious substance to enter a fish-bearing water body.

4.1 Is a disintegrating galvanized culvert considered to produce an inert substance under the Fisheries Act?

4.2 Is a disintegrating culvert considered to produce a deleterious substance(s)?

5. What is the source and chemical analysis of the oily sheen which is reflecting from the water in the ditch? (photo 250) (The adjacent trail does not permit motorized vehicles.)

6. It appears that unknown and possibly deleterious substances have entered the river unchecked for years. Why was an apparent oversight, which has ignored the most obvious source of possible pollution of fish-bearing waters, permitted to occur when major leachate concerns in the area of the former landfill, have been, and are currently, being so thoroughly investigated by the City’s consultants?

7.0 Where would the liquid draining from the culvert divert to should the City decide to close off the culvert?

7.1 Would it not inevitably build up pressure under ground and find alternative ways to the surface and, following the laws of gravity, into the Sturgeon River?

8. Under the circumstances described above, and given the possibility of harmful impacts on fish and their habitat, has Environment Canada been notified?

The very recent Court of Appeal for Ontario Decision (Docket: C38463, C38462 & C38490) in the Kingston landfill water pollution case has upheld the effectiveness of Canada’s Fisheries Act as most important water pollution prevention legislation. It confirms that Sec. 36(3) of the Act, which is “clear and unambiguous,” (86) is also to be interpreted in light of the “precautionary principle”, a principle of international law and policy. We would like to remind DFO of the need to respect this Principle in their decision-making on the proposed West-Regional Road Project :

“(85) In order to achieve sustainable development, policies must be based on the precautionary principle. Environmental measures must anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainly should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation. ” (quoted from L’Heureux- Dube J. 114957 Canada Ltee v Hudson Town)

In conclusion, we would ask you to please pass this information on to the other members of the EA assessment team , as well as to the DFO enforcement section for further investigation of potential violation of Sec. 36 (3) of the Fisheries Act.

Respectfully submitted,

Elke Blodgett
St. Albert Anti-Bypass Coalition

Cc: Robert Russell, President, Big Lake Environment Support Society (BLESS)
The Hon. G. Regan, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
The Hon. D. Anderson, Minister of Environment
Richard Nadeau, DFO; Steve Burgess, CEAA; Diane Campbell, EC;
City of St. Albert, Office of the Environment

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Elke Blodgett