© Rhonda Hayward photo
By Steve Bartlett
It was the last line of a nasty comment, from someone calling themselves “Thunder Struck.”
“If you swabbed a room in this pay-by-the-hour facility, you’d be amazed at what you’d find. Should’ve been renamed The Bacteria years ago,” read the comment on thetelegram.com story “MUN great fit for Battery Hotel, mayor says” last November.
The assault on The Battery may have been an attempt at humour or the vitriol of an axe being grinded.
But it did beg a legit question — what kind of environmental baggage came with the hotel on the hill when Memorial University purchased it last month?
Readers have called The Telegram wondering the same.
To get an answer, we asked for, and obtained, the environmental assessments MUN had completed before it paid $9.5 million for The Battery on March 1.
The findings of the appraisals may surprise Thunder Struck and others who’ve wondered about the carbon footprint of a 50-year-old building built above a polluted harbour on a hill that’s been used for defence, communications and tourism.
Turns out the building is totally suitable for MUN’s intended use — as a graduate student residence, office space and public areas.
MUN hired Pinchin LeBlanc Environmental to conduct a Phase 1 environmental assessment in November.
The firm visited the site, spoke to the people most knowledgeable about it, and reviewed numerous documents, including asbestos management plans, which offered no cause for concern.
Pinchin LeBlanc raised some red flags in the resulting report.
One concerned pipelines, a fuel outlet and underground storage tanks. The company felt a previous assessment by another firm did not fully investigate issues related to these structures.
Petroleum concentrations near an old fuel outlet was another caution, since they exceeded residential guidelines.
“This is significant because of the anticipated future use of the site as a residence,” reads the report.
Pinchin LeBlanc also thought more work needed to be done to rule out the presence of a vent pipe to an underground storage tank.
And the consultants were concerned about two pipelines running from the harbour to the northeast shore of Quidi Vidi Lake. They were installed by the U.S. army in 1956, and are now used to transport drilling muds, an essential product in drilling offshore oil wells. The company worried there might have been a recurrence of contamination in the years since the last assessment.
Pinchin LeBlanc recommended a Phase 2 environmental assessment as well as a risk assessment.
MUN hired the company to do the followup, which involved field investigations, analysis, computer modelling and data assessment.
Holes were drilled. Groundwater and soil samples were analyzed for petroleum, metals, volatile organic compounds, hydrocarbons and PCBs.
The results raised concern about petroleum levels only, with the concentrations in soil and groundwater exceeding acceptable levels.
However, a subsequent risk assessment found that the petroleum levels were within target levels.
Pinchin LeBlanc also investigated a suspected underground storage vent pipe it had identified in the first assessment. It couldn’t find one or determine if there ever had been one.
Still, the company tested for petroleum in the soil in the area where the pipe was thought to have been. The results were well below acceptable levels.
“The site is suitable for future use as a student residence,” the report concluded.
The assessment was done based on a scenario where people would be living in the building for five years or working there.
“Further assessment may be required if different land use scenarios and/or exposure times are proposed,” it cautioned.
It also noted the petroleum on the site may make soils unusable off-site or might be expensive to dispose of.
Darrell Miles, MUN’s director of facilities management, says the environmental assessments were part of an extensive due-diligence process to ensure there’d be no surprises if the university bought the building.
That process also included an engineering assessment to make sure the building could be brought up to the standard MUN wanted.
“The results of all of that turned out favourably, so of course, we decided to close the deal,” Miles says.
The province originally gave MUN $16.2 million to renovate the building. That was increased by $300,000 in last month’s provincial budget.
Miles says some minor work has begun.
The Battery’s security and fire alarm system has been tied into the university’s, and some locks and exterior doors have been replaced.
An analysis to determine which departments will relocate has also begun.
“It was a good deal to proceed and to eventually make The Battery a fairly robust facility,” Miles says.
You have to wonder what Thunder Struck would have to say about that.