The City of Nelson still wants to turn the old transfer station land along the waterfront into a park — but it’s complicated.
The property at the mouth of Cottonwood Creek was a garbage dump, then a transfer station, and is now the home of recycling bins. It includes the area just west of the bins, where the city now keeps large piles of sand.
The land is designated as a future park in the city’s Sustainable Waterfront and Downtown Master Plan. Turning it into a park was part of Mayor John Dooley’s election platform. And it came out near the top in city council’s recent strategic priorities sessions in the spring.
The land under the transfer station was a garbage dump for decades until the 1970s. This is also true of the current city works yard, the mall parking lot, the soccer fields, and the airport.
The garbage is still there, underground, and includes industrial and construction waste, so it is considered contaminated.
How bad is the contamination?
SLR Consulting, an international company contracted by the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK), will report on the state of the contamination by the end of this year. SLR was retained in 2013 and started working on the project in 2016 for a fee of $80,000. The biggest cost items, according to the RDCK’s Uli Wolf, have been installation of monitoring wells and analytical testing for contaminants over the years.
The RDCK is doing this analysis because it is responsible for waste, even though it’s city land. The RDCK’s job is to close the former transfer station and remediate the land back to industrial standards.
“Closure to industrial land in the simplest form,” Wolf says, “would mean grading the site so that you have water running off the site instead of ponding on it, [and putting] three feet of uncontaminated soil placed as a cover over the site, and re-seeding it.”
What would further upgrading from there to park standards mean?
“We don’t know. That is the tricky part,” Wolf says. “That is why the consultants are involved. The site standards are complex. The consultant assesses any form of risk. There are many options, and we are in the process to determine that.”
If it is to be remediated to this unknown park standard, who will pay for that — the city or the RDCK? Would it be a regional park or a city park? These questions are as yet undecided, and are complicated by the fact the city is part of the RDCK — they are not entirely separate entities.
Moving the recycle bins
Regardless of the contamination status, will the recycling bins be moved to make way for the park, and if so, when? And to where? It depends whom you ask.
City manager Kevin Cormack told the Star the bins will be moved away from the site.
In an email to the Star, he wrote, “Council has only allowed [the recycling depot] on a temporary basis as this currently does not fit with the city’s planning … Council’s current priority is to get the transfer station closed and remediated. Then to reach back out to community, hopefully in conjunction with our regional partners, to determine what type of park could be built on these lands …”
But Wolf says the recycling bins can’t go anywhere because there is no room at the Grohman waste site and there are no other feasible sites in or near Nelson. The depot might have to stay, he said, adjacent to the new park which would be built on land west of the depot.
The RDCK’s new agreement with Recycle BC will require a recycle depot in or very close to Nelson.
“The plan would foresee roughly the area that now has the depot on it plus a little bit more land to the south to be used for depot purposes,” Wolf told the Star. “The depot would then pretty well be a buffer between the city’s public works yard and the park. The park would be the larger remainder piece of the property to the west of the depot, if agreed to by the city.”
So the city and the RDCK still have some talking to do.
City hires consultant
To help the city figure out what to do with the land, it has hired its own consultant, Next Environmental Inc., based in Burnaby. Cormack said the roles of this consultant and the RDCK’s will not overlap.
“SLR (the RDCK consultant) is focused on the closure of the footprint of the transfer station site,” he said, “and Next Environmental that we have engaged will look at our lands more broadly and strategically on how we best use these lands going forward and ensure that we are taking the proper steps to allow this to happen.”
Next Environmental will be paid $13,500 for this work which is to be completed by the end of September.
CP Rail also a player
In addition to the cross-jurisdictional issues between the city and RDCK, there is another player. CP Rail owns a piece of land adjacent to the city-owned land and it is also contaminated, partly by the CPR’s own industrial operations over the years.
Wolf says there could easily be underground contamination overlapping between the sites.
“With changing water levels you have subsurface transfer mechanisms in both directions. If the water level rises, it pushes the potential contamination sub-surface upstream and as it lowers it comes back. That makes the issue that more complex.”
He said he is not sure what CP Rail is doing about this.
“CP Rail does its own investigations and have their own discussions with the Ministry of the Environment and we are only privy to small portions of it as they relate to us.”
The Star contacted CP Rail, asking about their plans. The company’s Salem Woodrow responded with a brief statement by email: “CP is actively managing its legacy environmental impacts in Nelson and is engaged with the B.C. Ministry of Environment on this file.”
Recently Mayor John Dooley met with CP in Calgary and said they discussed the site remediation.
“CP were good to talk to,” Dooley said. “They said they would review the file and get back to us.”