Tantallon property contaminated, but no one will clean it up

Maria Brink, right, walks along the edge of her property with her daughter Margret Holland.  (Brian MacKay/CBC - photo credit)

Maria Brink, right, walks along the edge of her property with her daughter Margret Holland. (Brian MacKay/CBC – photo credit)

A decades-long dispute between neighbors in Tantallon, NS underscores the complexity—and sometimes futility—of trying to deal with the historical contamination of private property.

Maria Brink moved into her little paradise overlooking Rye Hill Cove in 1960.

The property was an idyllic spot where children could swim and snorkel to spot flounder and eels in the sea grass and where eagles, ospreys and kingfishers were regularly seen.

One day years ago — Brink, 90, can’t remember exactly when — she realized there was a problem on her property when her late husband stepped outside, lit a cigarette, and the grass burst into flames.

They believed the soil must have been contaminated by the store next door. Once an Esso gas station, the property changed hands over time, eventually becoming an Irving gas station operated by the Tantallon Service Center.

Today it houses a car sales business and a dock building and storage company which leases the land from the Tantallon Service Centre.

Brian MacKay/CBC

Brian MacKay/CBC

Brink said at the time her family made a few calls to find out what could be done, including to the Environment Department, but nothing much came of it. They tested their well water and the results showed it was safe.

Just last year, Brink’s daughter, Margret Holland, received the results of a request for information and learned that her mother’s commercial property and property were contaminated with all petroleum hydrocarbons, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.

Soil and groundwater testing was conducted separately by the Tantallon Service Center and Irving Oil in the early 2000s.

“The source of soil pollution on the neighboring property appears to be related to surface runoff and snowmelt migrating across the station property to the adjacent property,” says the environmental report prepared for Irving.

A 2003 ministerial order from the Department of the Environment states that the Tantallon Service Center, owned by Elaine Clark, violated environmental law by releasing a substance into the environment that could have significant adverse effects. The company was instructed to submit an environmental assessment report, submit a proposed work plan and begin remediation work.

Brian MacKay/CBC

Brian MacKay/CBC

Eventually, the Tantallon Service Center developed a remediation plan that included removing contaminated soil from Brink’s property.

However, Holland and Brink said no work was ever done to clean up their land or the property next door. Over the years, Holland and Brink have contacted their local council, law enforcement, their MLA, several provincial agencies, their legislature, the Federal Fisheries Agency and others to try to take cleanup action, but have been unsuccessful.

“All these departments, all these government officials that we pay taxes to, just pretend it doesn’t exist and ignore us,” Holland said in an interview last week.

owner replies

Clark, the owner of the commercial property, told the CBC the contamination existed before she bought the land in 1986.

“I don’t have to clean it up,” she said.

Clark said the Environment Department took her to court over the ministerial order, but the case was eventually dropped because it was determined she did not cause the pollution.

Documents included in the freedom of information request show that the Tantallon Service Center was summoned to court in 2004, but charges of violating environmental law were dropped because the Crown did not believe the department would be able to prove, that the company had violated The Act.

Brian MacKay/CBC

Brian MacKay/CBC

A spokesman for the department confirmed there is no pending ministerial order but said if new information confirms the presence of contamination it should be reported to the department.

Clark added that Brink’s property was contaminated because Brink’s late husband once asked if he could have some soil that had been dug up on the commercial property and he brought it onto his land. Holland said this story made no sense.

Who is responsible?

Now Holland and Brink are wondering what options are left. They know the two properties are contaminated, but the problem remains.

“It’s sad that they can just whitewash you as a normal layman and just say OK and do nothing,” says Brink.

Although several pages have been redacted in the freedom of information documents, the possible liability of the Department of the Environment is pointed out.

An inspector from the department wrote in 2010: “I believe that the department’s failure to act in this situation could be construed as negligent. Impacts on third-party property have been identified and it is likely that these impacts originated from Tantallon service centers.”

The inspector then concludes that “the affected third-party landowner could seek full sanitation of the property through civil litigation.”

Brian MacKay/CBC

Brian MacKay/CBC

Holland said she looked into a lawsuit, but learned the commercial property owner would not be liable for an amount in excess of the property’s current value, which would not be enough to rehabilitate it.

“So what am I feeling? Frustrated. i feel powerless I’m incredibly sad for my parents,” Holland said.

“There is no accountability … I honestly feel the government is responsible. Someone has to clean them up.”

Fill, flood problems

Adding to the contamination problem, Holland said 12 meters of the commercial property, which used to be a swampy area near the water, was filled in without a permit.

It now appears to contain debris as large pieces of metal, rebar, asphalt shingles and other objects have begun to protrude from the land.

Brian MacKay/CBC

Brian MacKay/CBC

Clark said her tenants built a wharf and may have added some infill for that, but she is not aware of any other infill on her property.

“I should notice that, wouldn’t it, if it were 42 feet?” said Clark.

Holland has also filed a small claims court case against Clark over backyard flooding, which she said originated from the commercial property. Holland said the case was dismissed because it was believed Brink suffered no financial loss from the floods.



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