Saturday, October 6, 2012

Oct. 6: contamination that is there and....

questions that aren't there.

At the bottom of my Oct. 5 column is a comment by a reader that,  in fact, the Times and Transcript did report on contamination at Highfield Square. That's not as true as it sounds.

The report was on April 11, 2012. It  was by Brent Mazerolle. The report was a vague one that there was SOME contamination, probably much of it from diesel fuel, and it would now be on the public record - and that this was a common problem in cities, not at all unique to Moncton.

It was a minimal and soothing report.(They had to say somethng. There were drilling rigs in Highfield Square.)  What the report said, in effect, was "keep movin' , folks. Nothin' to look at here." That's not a report. It's a dismissal. It's like a doctor saying to a patient, "You have some cancer, probably from smoking. We'll keep it on file. Nothing to worry about. It's quite common, not at all unique to you."

This isn't reporting a story; it's burying it.

There seem to have been no questions. - like - how severe is the contamination? exactly what are the contaminants? after all, these are quite old railway yards going back way before diesel. And exactly what are the dangers of diesel contaminants?  what will a clean-up cost? where are we going to dump all this stuff?

As for it being on the public record, I asked city hall for the information months ago. What I got from the councillors was no response at all. What I got from city hall offices was that there was some contamination. I was refused any information on what it was or how severe it was. It was only when I filed a request under laws concerning access to information that I got even a brief answer with some details.

That TandT report that our commenter referred to is is pretty damn close to lying. And its failure to ask questions suggests either reportorial incompetence or conspiracy in withholding essential information from the public. In the end, all we were told is that we should relax. No big deal. Forget about it.

Amusingly enough, Brent Mazerolle has an opinion column today on a related topic. It's on the refusal of the government to release Dr. Cleary's report on shale gas - and then it's abrupt backtracking on that refusal. He writes, "I know as a reporter I would be among the scrumming pack calling for heads to roll if government didn't have a coherent response to whatever the doctor has said."


Well, the government didn't have a coherent response. And I heard and read nothing from the scrumming pack, and certainly nothing from Brent Mazerolle. Not until now. And now is a long time AFTER the pot boiled over.

The Times and Transcript has still made no reference to the Highfield Square report that is in the city council file. It has not told us what the contaminants are or how serious they are. CBC has carried the story. And Toronto news media have written to me about it. But not a word from the Irving press.

So here are hints for some questions for the "scrumming pack" to ask.

1. Is it true that by law land owners must report contamination to the Minister of the Environment? (The Minister of the Environment is, of course,  our environmental Batman, Bruce Fitch.) Did they report it to  him? What was his response?

2. Is it true that landowners, by law, are required to conduct an immediate clean up?

3. If so, how come they didn't? And h ow come this situation, with over a century of contamination, seems never to have been dealt with?

4. The railway station is not an old building. How come it got permission to be built on contaminated land?

5. Same question for the Sobey's supermarket.

6. What are the dangers of these contaminants to us?

7.Where are we going to dump the contaminated soil?

other areas to explore....
1. We are offering six million dollars for this contaminated land. What would its market value be if it were healthy?

2. exactly what is the  budget for the clean up?

3. The world economy is in the severest crisis we have ever seen. The next six months could and probably will see a meltdown in the middle east that will make it infinitely worse. The provincial debt is its own, little disaster area. There is no sign that Ottawa is going to be of any help in building our new hockey rink (sorry, events centre),

Is this a really, really smart time to plunge the rate payers and tax payers of this province into even heavier debt in order to buy contaminated land for an events centre that may never be built - and which would almost certainly be a money-loser, anyway?

In sympathy, you can see the land owners' problem. They are stuck with a piece of land that has become worthless to them. Even worse, they are obligated to spend millions in cleaning it up. Result - unhappy landowners.

But what if the city were to buy it - and to pay for the clean up? Result happy landowners.

Will the "events centre" get built? Who knows? Who cares? The problem for the landowners is worthless land and a huge cleaning responsibility. Problem solved.

In other news,

Norbert contributes one of the best columns I have ever seen in The Times and Transcript. It's well-written. It deals with a topic more important than we can even imagine - the use of drones to kill people and to spy on them. Already, 75 countries have drones - and one of those countries is Canada. Read this column, and take the implications very seriously, indeed. It's every bit as bad as Norbert says it is, and every bit as bad as he implies it could be.

There is also a superb op ed column by Jean-Claude Basque of Moncton. It's about New Brunswick as a welfare state for business.

Really, the relationship between big business and government in this province is much like that between the mafia and government in Quebec. The only difference is that the mafia doesn't just take. It also gives ---I have had invitations from mafioso to great wedding receptions, and some pretty cool funerals.

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