It’s a whodunnit without an answer, and has left the City of Mount Pearl with a bill of more than $173,000.
Mayor Dave Aker says that’s the amount spent to date and most of the cost is expected to be covered by insurance, with the exception of the deductible, but it’s not the end of the story.
On June 1, 2018, the presence of what turned out to be a mixture of diesel oil and motor oil was discovered in the marshland along a popular walking trail, in the area of Power’s Pond. A report was made to the city that day, along with regulators at Service NL and Environment Canada.
The walking trail was closed, while containment booms and absorbent pads were put out. Hiring EXP Consulting, the city began the active clean-up operation the next day.
Oil came into the area from a nearby storm sewer outfall. No releases have been reported since, the mayor said. The investigation couldn’t identify the exact source.
While the investigative work was ongoing, the city’s contractor recovered oil, changed out absorbent pads and booms. The total amount recovered reached about 2,000 litres by early July.
“Since that (recovery) activity’s ceased, the city has continued to monitor and inspect the area,” Aker said. The monitoring has involved a walk through by city staff members, at times weekly.
In addition to investigative work by Service NL (deemed the lead investigating agency by Environment Canada), the city has checked catch basins and wastewater pipes with smoke tests and camera tests, to assure the underground system is sound, and narrow down where oil might enter the system.
The next step will be replacing oil-stained planks along the boardwalk. That work is yet to be costed, but is expected to be completed later this year. It is the last piece of clean up.
Meanwhile, the mayor said the city council is conscious of the risk of a re-occurrence. It has turned to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for support in a response to that.
“We want to assess basically, perhaps, putting in a detention pond in that area, which will make the identification of any future oil spills, as well as remediation, it’ll go a lot quicker and be able to contain more of any product,” he said.
The municipality is exploring what might be possible, when it comes to preventative measures so actual polluters — and not the City of Mount Pearl — are forced to pay in future.
"We want to assess basically, perhaps, putting in a detention pond in that area, which will make the identification of any future oil spills, as well as remediation, it’ll go a lot quicker and be able to contain more of any product."
— Dave Aker, Mayor of Mount Pearl
On retention ponds, Aker was asked about a retention pond installed following an identified release of oil from the North Atlantic fuel storage site in the Donovan’s Industrial Park back in 2010. That case involved a different product, migrating into the city system. And Aker said the point of release in this case at the Power’s Pond wetland is not the same. Ownership of the existing retention pond in the area was transferred to the city in 2014.
Meanwhile, an access to information request (not filed by The Telegram) showed Mount Pearl’s chief administration officer and former MHA Steve Kent was in contact with the department via email in June, regarding the more recent case.
“Unfortunately, Service NL representatives did not attend at the scene until June 4, 2018,” he stated, referring to the event as a “major spill,” with the potential to have moved beyond the marsh and into Power’s Pond and beyond. The suggestion of delay drew response from Service NL, with officials there outlining the province’s contact with the city the day of their initial report, to guide the containment and clean-up processes.
Asked about the back and forth, Aker said there was a lot of communication, the city just wanted to be sure the investigation was being given the attention it needed, and he took no issue with the response by Service NL.
“We’re working actively with them in terms of processing (the) file. We take our direction from them,” he said.