Report prepared by Barbara Chernin 14/07/21
June was a pivotal month for the Environmental Group and the neighbourhood in relation to this northeast corner, an old gas station site for about 50 years still in the process of remediation by Suncor and planned for residential development. The community has ongoing queries and concerns on the environmental impact of the legacy contamination, remediation efforts, and the potential that development of the site may cause further environmental impact.
Almost 20 years later, a final report indicating that remediation objectives have been achieved has not been issued. After about two years of asking questions regarding the site and off-site cleanup, EG as lead on this project is hopeful questions will be answered. Involvement from the Casa Loma Residents Association (CLRA,) Councillor Matlow and concerned citizens have greatly added to the project’s progress with their time and knowledge.
In June, a meeting was held through Councillor Matlow’s Office with The City, the Casa Loma Residents Association (CLRA), Environmental Group (EG) and concerned citizens. The outcome was that action was swiftly taken in June by the Councillor’s Office in motions passed by Community Council. The motions were directed at the Developers Kingsett Capital and Canderel as well as the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) and Suncor. They called for greater transparency by the Developers, Suncor and MECP requesting ‘the relevant information relating to the contamination and remediation efforts be made public’ (See Meeting summary June 17th, 2021 below)
The Environmental Group’s Project Lead Barbara Chernin will be sending a letter to MECP Minister Jeff Yurek detailing concerns and inconsistencies in reporting which have brought us to this point. Giving the public more knowledge about the environmental behaviour and potential for spread of contaminants in their neighbourhoods and associated remediation and risk management efforts will assuredly spark a positive note for collaboration and engagement.
1467 BATHURST STREET SITE BACKGROUND
The Bathurst/ St Clair gas station, with an added carwash and auto repair, was onsite for decades and leaked gasoline and other contaminants in the late 90’s into areas to the south, east and west of the site, potentially including Wells Hill Park. In 2001, “Petro-Canada/Suncor and the City of Toronto entered into an enforceable License Agreement where Petro-Canada/Suncor would undertake remediation” and ongoing monitoring to respond to the contaminants from 1467 Bathurst Street and indemnify the City against any third-party claims as a result of the contamination spread.
Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) and the City have repeatedly pointed to public sites and Freedom of Information requests for the Community and the Environmental Group to gain information and clarity– about 3500 pages of documents. The publicly available documents include highly technical monitoring reports and conceptual models which make it difficult to get an easily accessible answer on exactly where the gasoline leak is currently, the extent of soil and groundwater contamination, and how far the gasoline plume had spread. Presently, the site owners do not have a building permit.
Thanks to Councillor Matlow’s Office, a meeting called for by Chernin of the Environmental Group (EG) occurred with the City on June 17th. Concerned community members attending along with EG were Casa Loma Residents Association (CLRA) represented by counsel Richard Macklin and interested citizens Dr. Dianne Saxe and Dr. Elizabeth Haack. Hosted by Councillor Matlow and Jade Leung-Administrative Assistant to Councillor Matlow; City attendees were Scott Pasternack (City Legal), Rick Gibson (Manager Soil & Groundwater Quality), Natasha Zappulla (Toronto Building) and Stephen Li (Environmental Coordinator substituting for Transportation City).
SUMMARY DETAILS OF MEETING AND ACTIONS TAKEN PAST AND PRESENT
- In June of 2020, community concerns led to Councillor Matlow passing Motion Decision 2020.TE15.1 (Item 9), through Community Council, which directed “Engineering and Construction Services, in consultation with Legal Services, to undertake a Review of the 2001 Council-approved remediation and the status of implementation, including, but not limited to the recovery wells along the south side of St. Clair Avenue Ave. West between Bathurst Street and Hilton Avenue. http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewAgendaItemHistory.do?item=2020.TE15.1
- In January of 2021, the ‘Review’ of the Council-approved remediation and status of implementation was received by Councillor Matlow’s Office in the form of a Memorandum prepared by City Staff Scott Pasternack (City Legal) and Rick Gibson (Manager Soil & Groundwater Quality). EG’s Chernin responded with a summary of questions including observations by Environmental Consultant Dr. Elizabeth Haack. In their reply, she was once again directed to file a Freedom of Information Request not only from the City but on June 8th by the MECP whom she queried as well. Citing inconsistencies in their reporting with respect to the nature and extent of contamination, Chernin advised more transparency and clarity was needed with respect to remediation efforts by Suncor.
Meeting Summary June 17th 2021
- Councillor Matlow guided the proceedings keeping them balanced and informative. His questions relating to Risk Assessment of properties to determine the connection between the completion of remediation—how a final Record of Site (RSC) figured into the building permit process and specifically when construction could start were crucial. ‘A Record of Site condition summarizes the environmental condition of a property, based on the completion of environmental site assessments.
- CLRA counsel Richard Macklin stated in response to the City Memorandum “Our main goal, in attending the Meeting, is to help build a path towards ultimately obtaining an objective, straightforward and scientifically supported answer, prior to the issuance of building permits, regarding the actual environmental risk posed by the proposed development at the Site”. (1467 Bathurst Street). Mr. Macklin queried the inconsistencies in the memo asking for an establishment of clear communication regarding the risk assessment process.
- Through Mr. Macklin’s probing with the Toronto Building Representative, it became known that a conditional building permit can be granted by the City and that soil excavation for remediation can be done alongside construction development before an RSC is granted.
- A desire for a public communication of the remediation status by Community attendees led to a proposed action where Councillor Matlow, with specific wording, could legally go directly to Suncor, the Developers and MECP to demand they provide monitoring reports and all material related to the remediation of 1467 Bathurst Street.
- Dr. Dianne Saxe attended as an interested neighbour with questions of her own. Dr. Saxe, an internationally recognized Canadian lawyer, was the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario from 2015-2019 and is current Deputy Leader of the Green Party of Ontario. Dr. Saxe was particularly concerned ‘that the City was not demanding more of Suncor and MECP with respect to the remediation and its progress” pushing for clearness on this issue. She said, “In my view, neither the city nor the residents are safe in assuming these areas are clean unless proper data is disclosed”.
- Dr. Elizabeth Haack, has been providing environmental consulting on contaminates sites for more than 15 years. She consistently supported efforts of EG by providing review of available documents and an impartial understanding of the technical aspects of those documents, pertaining to contamination associated with historical activities at 1467 Bathurst Street and adjacent sites. During the meeting, Dr. Elizabeth Haack queried the City about groundwater wells located in the park, including some that have been relatively recently installed (2019) – suggesting ongoing investigation into contamination conditions in that area – and if results for those wells could be shared with the public to support the assertions from the MECP that there was no plume reaching the Park.
- The one-hour meeting concluded with a better understanding of the City approach to privacy and release of information when there is third party involvement. It laid the groundwork for Councillor Matlow, the CLRA and The Environmental Group to move forward with their actions:
- Action June 21st Richard Macklin, acting as counsel for CLRA Casa Loma Residents Association, sent a letter to the owners of the site, Kingsett Capital and Canderel. Suncor, still in charge of remediation for the northeast corner and adjacent properties, was also notified in the letter that the CLRA is engaged in a public consultation process with the City of Toronto and Councillor Matlow’s Office. The letter stated “Our members are concerned about the potential for remaining contamination on public lands downgradient of 1467 Bathurst (the “Lands”), including roads, parkland and the ravine, and the potential for health and ecological risks. Please provide us with copies of your current environmental data (including Risk Assessments and Monitoring Reports) pertaining to the Lands”. Suncor and the site owners have not responded to the request as of this posting.
- Action June 24th, Councillor Matlow took the initiative and passed a motion through Community Council on the 1467 Bathurst Street site requesting, “all relevant information relating to the contamination and remediation efforts to be made public. I am also asking for the Chief Building Officer not to issue any building-related permits until the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks has confirmed the safety on-site via the Record of Site Condition”. http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2021/te/bgrd/backgroundfile-168695.pdf
The Environmental Group (EG) goals still remain:
- To understand if the gasoline plume has been delineated and how far it has spread. If necessary, insist an independent company be engaged to provide technical support to this understanding, with consent from the MECP engage with us and the public to find answers. Again, delineation activities can be undertaken by an independent company completed through the collection of environmental samples (soil, groundwater, soil vapour).
- To employ more non-invasive strategies for remediation in place of excavation, which can often represent one of the less expensive options, but can have detrimental impact on soil and surrounding lands. Other in-situ alternatives including soil vapour extraction and bioremediation techniques should be considered for breaking down environmental pollutants and ridding the area of contaminants. Giving the Community a firm idea of how long this will take, and any associated environmental risk, should be mandatory.
- To have public consultation be part of the Risk Assessment process for the Developers with the support of the Ministry, such that any further movement towards an (RSC) Record of Site Condition is made with public consultation, awareness and understanding of the plans to remediate remaining contamination and mitigate risks to humans and the environment.
The Environmental Group applauds both actions taken by Councillor Matlow and the Casa Loma Residents Association. The input and opinions of Dr. Dianne Saxe and Dr. Elizabeth Haack not only provided knowledge but also motivation for EG to continue. Perhaps, the work done here by the Community and Councillor Matlow’s office will set a precedent for increased engagement and transparency for communities to find out how they may be affected by the environmental cleanup of gas stations and other polluted sites.