Public Values

City of Ottawa to store contaminated soil beneath planned Lansdowne urban park

Mismanaged P3 project still not getting it right.

newsletter for the Friends of Lansdowne's Let's Get It Right email list

OTTAWA, ON, September 24, 2012: One of the better features of the Lansdowne Partnership Plan is a 7-acre urban park facing the canal. However, it has just come to light that there can be no new buildings of any size in the park area — ever. There can be no public washroom buildings, no outdoor cafes and no kayak/bicycle rental pavilions. There can be tents and porta-potties, but no structures connected to the city's sewage system. So even though the park is intended to serve hundreds of thousands of visitors, and is part of a project costing taxpayers over $400 million, new amenities will be restricted to whatever is inside the Aberdeen Pavilion and the Horticulture Building. If these buildings happen to be closed, there will be no public washrooms in the park area and you will have to walk to the privately controlled stadium or shops just to wash your hands.

This surprising fact was revealed in a workshop organized by the Glebe Community Association with provincial Ministry of the Environment officials to discuss the risk management plan for Lansdowne. It turns out that because of the environmental controls needed to deal with contaminated soils in the designated parkland zone, any future construction is out of the question.

  "Surely there are better ways to manage future development than with contaminated soil."

Of course we want Ontario's Ministry of the Environment to put strict controls in place to protect the environment. But the environmental problems are largely a problem of the City's own making. The City of Ottawa has excavated hundreds of tons of contaminated soil from near Holmwood Avenue and hauled it into the park area near the canal. The City plans to bury the contaminated soil in landscaped berms (small hills) 10 metres high (3 storeys). The contaminated soil will be covered with a non-woven geotextile fabric and a metre of clean topsoil.

This is not the only way to deal with contamination. The City could have chosen to remove the soil altogether, or encase it in a membrane which prevents leaching of toxins. These solutions would meet a higher environmental standard, but would have been more expensive. So the City opted for a solution which they say does not cause hazards to public health or to the environment, but which has the effect of limiting the future use of the public parkland at Lansdowne.

Now some may say that these environmental restrictions will protect the urban park from being developed, and this is a good thing. This is true. But surely there are better ways (for example zoning and a park designation) to manage future development than putting contaminated soil on it.

It comes down to this. The City has chosen to prioritize the commercial development of Lansdowne over the public use, by moving contaminated soil from the area zoned for mixed commercial use to the area zoned for parkland. The private sector developers will be able to build their condos and shopping centres; but the public will not be able to get another set of public washrooms in the urban park at Lansdowne if they are needed ten or twenty years from now. Does this make sense in a 7-acre urban park trumpeted as a significant public legacy project along the Rideau Canal?

You can find out about all of this in great detail (a 500-page report) on the Ontario Ministry of the Environment's website. You can review the draft Certificate of Public Use under EBR registry number 011-6997. You can see pictures of the piles of dirt and read about the nature of the contaminants in an Ottawa Citizen article. Or read up on some background from Friends of Lansdowne.

Links and sources
  So where will you wash your hands?

Posted: October 04, 2012

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