Sir: At the Jan. 13 Chatham-Kent council meeting, a report from John Norton, C-K’s general manager of community development, was made to the mayor and council in regard to the results of some environmental assessment/testing done on property bordering the old Navistar site.
The report was presented in manner that was obviously intended to be a good news story, one that lent support and perhaps even optimism to the dreams of Mayor Canniff for a new sports complex on the old industrial site. To read the report, one is led to believe that the Navistar site is safe, contaminant-free and construction-ready. However, upon closer inspection, the report raises far more questions than answers.
One has to presume that this work was done in preparation for a future sports complex given that numerous references were made to the project itself and the Navistar site, which have been linked together for quite some time. Therein lies the main concern around this environmental assessment.
Mayor Canniff has made it very clear that the sports complex project would not go forward without first securing funding that has been applied for from both the provincial and federal governments. Without this funding, no sports complex!
So unless the mayor and council know some big secret that they are not sharing, why would they go ahead and direct the spending of a $250,000 to conduct this testing on lands that may never be used or owned by the municipality?
Why would this work have not been delayed until it is determined that the funding is a go, the project is a go, and the environmental assessment is actually required? There was no requirement to do it now, but now that it has been spent, it risks being wasted.
Next, and even more perplexing: why was the money spent on perimeter property that may not even be used in the project? The results of this assessment – while indicating “manageable risk” on the neighboring property – do not in any way guarantee that the Navistar site is contaminant free.
Yes, migration of risk from one property to another can happen, but it is not a given and cannot be assumed. Even if there was migration of contaminants, it’s highly likely that the source site has higher levels of contamination than the perimeter migration site.
Should the project in fact go ahead, the Navistar site will still require the same environmental assessments (and associated costs) to ascertain that it is clean and safe to build on. Again, why was this quarter million dollar premature action taken?
Also, the municipality does not own the Navistar site on which they hope to build the project. What if Navistar won’t sell it? What if the price tag they put on it is too high? These are all questions that should have been answered before a dime was invested into this project, let alone $250,000.
Upon presenting the report, Mr. Norton suggested that the assessments needed to be done, in the manner that they were, by the municipality, “regardless of who” takes over the site or “whether it ends up owned by us or someone privately buys it and redevelops it.” Sadly, that is just not the case.
Yes, an environmental assessment would have needed to be done by whomever buys the property, but if that someone is someone other than Chatham-Kent, then the responsibility and cost for any environmental assessment and subsequent clean up is all on that other buyer.
There was no reason or incentive for C-K to do that work or spend that money – on the perimeter site or the Navistar site – unless C-K was going to own it and build on it. But they don’t, and they just may never own it or need to own it.
Perhaps there is something else that the municipality is not saying that can logically explain their decision to direct the testing of properties next to the Navistar site. If not, this expenditure was completely unnecessary and unwise.
By all indications, this was just another very costly and poor management decision that was not based on sound business metrics, but rather on over-optimism, hope and, sadly, taxpayer disrespect.
C-K’s elected representatives are acting like they are betting with house money and not their own, and while that is essentially how most of today’s politicians conduct themselves, C-K taxpayers deserve far better.