Planners see gold in brownfields
New tax revenue can make cleanup effort worthwhile
By Albert Warson
The Globe and Mail
Abandoned, derelict and badly contaminated industrial
sites known as brownfields -- there are an estimated 30,000
of them across Canada -- are beginning to appeal to the
pluckiest of developers and municipalities.
Drawing pollution out of the ground before starting a
real estate project makes for a long, complicated and
high-stakes venture. But the rewards in new tax revenues
and urban renewal possibilities make the effort worthwhile.
In Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's riding, for
example, the Quebec government, the city of Shawinigan
and the Canadian subsidiary of a major paint and chemical
manufacturer teamed up for the $24.8-million cleanup of
a severely contaminated industrial brownfield site, drenched
for nearly 50 years with a witch's brew of chemicals.
Soon it will be home to a new Wal-Mart store and a Canadian
Tire gas bar.
Quebec is the only province that contributes to the cost
of "remediating" or cleaning up brownfield sites.
It agreed to provide a so-called Revi-Sols grant, to be
administered by the city of Shawinigan, toward accelerated
remediation of ICI Canada Inc.'s polluted 7.9-hectare
site -- a project the company had already started on its
own. ICI is a subsidiary of Imperial Chemical Industries
of Canada Ltd., in turn owned by Imperial Chemical Industries
PLC. The London-based chemical company manufactures paints,
specialty chemicals, fragrances, food additives, starches
and adhesives, among other products -- ringing up international
sales last year of £6.1-billion ($13.5-billion).
Revi-Sols grants, which generally cover up to 50 per cent
of the cost of remediation, were limited to Montreal and
Quebec City when they were initiated in 1998, then broadened
in 2000 to include other provincial cities and towns.
Both Quebec and Shawinigan will benefit from the province's
largesse. Wal-Mart Canada Corp. of Toronto has invested
$20-million to acquire about one-fifth of the remediated
site. Its 100,000-square-foot store, opening this fall,
will provide property taxes for the city and more than
250 income tax-paying employees.
Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. has acquired another part of
the cleaned-up site to build a gas bar. Some of the land
will remain for sale and redevelopment after all the soil
and water contamination is removed, according to Richard
Kenno, ICI Canada's principal environmental consultant,
based in Toronto.
For its efforts, ICI received one of nine Brownie awards
-- in the "technological solutions/green design"
category -- given out last month by the Toronto-based
Canadian Urban Institute at its annual brownfields conference.
ICI's mercury-cell chloralkali plant on the Shawinigan
site was in operation from 1939 to 1979, overlapping with
a chlorinated solvents plant that was active from 1936
to 1985. More than 650,000 litres of solvents trapped
in the soil under the water table have so far been pumped
out and recycled or disposed of, with more to come. Tens
of thousands of tonnes of contaminated soil were also
excavated and removed.
The company built a containment wall and a water treatment
and discharge plant on the site. ICI says those cleanup
measures meet, and in some spots on the site exceed provincial
Ministry of the Environment criteria for commercial land
"We decommissioned and demolished these plants,
and remediated the soil on the site of the chloralkali
plant from 1979 to the early 1990s," Mr. Kenno says.
"The solvent plant soil remediation started in the
late 1980s and is ongoing."
He explains that the chloralkali plant mainly manufactured
chlorine, which most people regard as a benign purifying
agent in swimming pools, but which becomes a contaminant
when accumulated in soil.
ICI had already spent about $16-million on remediation
between 1979 and 2001 before receiving the provincial
grant, he says.
The province has so far provided $2.4-million and Mr.
Kenno expects that will be doubled by the end of the next
year, with ICI spending another $4-million for a total
of about $20-million the company will have invested by
the time the soil has been decontaminated.
"We had cleaned up the site to the point where everything
was under control, but we wanted to carry out an accelerated
remediation because pumping the contaminated water out
of the soil would otherwise have taken up to 60 years.
"We looked at that [Revi-Sols] program, and we needed
to have a redevelopment tied in with remediation. You
had to show there was some economic merit. At that time
there was a lot of interest in the area, which had become
hot, with businesses springing up, and we were getting
a lot of queries about availability of sites on the land,"
Mr. Kenno says.
The Wal-Mart store development, he says, represents a
positive payback on the province's $8.1-million accelerated
"The Quebec government will not give you money unless
there is a reasonable economic payback," he says.
"It has to help the community."
Among other Brownie Awards winners this year were:
Planning & Engineering Initiatives Ltd. of Kitchener,
Ont., jointly with the City of Brantford, Ont., in the
"sustainability in community building" category
for developing a strategy to redevelop a 20-hectare brownfield
site in the city.
Frank Le Claire, director of technical services, Manitoba
Government Services. Mr. Le Claire was named "Brownfielder
of the Year," for shepherding a public-private partnership
that will transform a downtown Winnipeg city block with
five abandoned 1880s-era buildings into a heritage neighbourhood
that will include a 220,000-square-foot high-tech learning
centre for Red River College. That campus on Princess
Street in the city's historic Exchange District, to be
completed in November, was also named "best project
The City of Toronto's corporate services facilities and
real estate department and the Toronto Police Service,
in the "heritage/adaptive reuse project," for
a new 51 Division police station. It sits on a once-contaminated
site at Front and Parliament Streets downtown, partly
incorporating an abandoned gas purification plant, which
was restored and renovated.
The City of Toronto, in the "policy and program
development" category, for "leveraging brownfield
redevelopment through community partnerships." The
municipal economic development office facilitated industrial
tax grants to encourage new clean manufacturing and other
industrial development on a vacant 28-hectare brownfield
site near the lakeshore in the former city of Etobicoke,
The one-day conference and awards ceremony was staged
in the 200,000-square-foot former Kaufman Footwear manufacturing
plant in downtown Kitchener. It is on a brownfield site
undergoing remediation and scheduled redevelopment into
office space, residential lofts and retail space next
year -- once all the naptha contamination is removed.