Anyone who has spent any time in Terrace and area can probably remember the old West End Chevron at Kenney and Highway 16 West or the old Terrace Esso at Emerson and Lakelse right downtown.
Both of these sites have been for too long, considered two of the city’s most prominent “brownfield” sites, the name given to locations which once housed businesses or activity which then may have left contaminants in the ground.
Solely through the hard work and persistence of the all-volunteer Greater Terrace Beautification Society, we have seen the old Esso site after many years of abandonment become Brolly Square. Meanwhile, after 15-plus years and on one of the main focal entrances into our city, the old west end site is still at the weeds, garbage and broken fence stage.
Brownfields are a very significant matter to municipalities and regional districts across Canada.
There are currently over 6,000 such sites registered in Canada and virtually every town has at least an abandoned gas station or bulk plant.
Leaving land to naturally remediate seems to be the most popular method of remediation. An entire industry has sprung up around giving these properties a clean bill of health.
The delay is frequently unsightly, time consuming and takes valuable properties out of the available property pool.
An environmental audit is usually always demanded by lenders before properties can change hands and a piece of property can be declared a brownfield based simply on suspicion. An entire secretive industry with its own vernacular has sprung up around suspicion, drilling holes, testing and smelling rocks.
The City of Terrace is taking a resolution to the Union of BC Municipalities annual convention this month calling for local governments to have the power to raise taxes on property owners of brownfield sites in order to prompt them to clean up these sites rather than to leave those to naturally remediate themselves.
This natural remediation method is legal in Canada and B.C. but it can be very time consuming and frustrating, as the city itself is finding out on the eastern part of the old Co-op property it owns.
Perhaps the better way to address this would be to somehow inject a bit of common sense into the whole brownfield industry.
For the most part, the contamination of these sites is usually a small amount of old furnace fuel, gasoline and diesel from leaking underground tanks. The contamination is subsurface and not likely to affect whatever is being put on the surface when rebuilt.
Is it then really necessary to bring a commercial site back to virgin farmland status? I would challenge you to find very many properties within the city limits that do not have some form of contamination from previous developments.
Case in point is the western part of the old Skeena/Repap log yard on Keith that recently sold to a local family who intend to develop the property into a car dealership. What sense does it make for the city and province (and most likely the banks) to demand that an industrial property is remediated back to farmland status at huge expense only to have the new owners pave it over and park cars on it?
A reasonable person might look at this and realize quickly that this isn’t the Sydney, Nova Scotia Tar Pits so why are we going through all of this expense? Being as it’s already zoned a commercial/industrial property, the eventuality of someone building a farm on it someday is remote.
If practicality were injected into this by having multiple levels of contamination, or an acceptable level of contamination for different types of zoning, the odds are good that the city would already have rid itself of the weedy elephant that is the old Co-Op property, Brolly Square would be already properly developed and the old West End would not look as dilapidated as it does.
The unintended consequences of what we have today are a bureaucracy and much too onerous lending requirements.
Perhaps the banks and the related level of officialdom that have been created have far too much power, and need to be reined back in by the government, who need to inject some common sense into environmental categorization.
Decreasing the value of the land by overly stringent environmental standards and then increasing the taxes will not bring productivity or development to our town.
Steve Smyth is a past director of the Terrace-Kitimat Airport Society and a current director of the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce.