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Sears leaves Calgary mall and questions amid unfinished remediation

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The Sears Canada Inc. gas station at the North Hill Centre mall in Calgary opened in 1958 and has been actively tended to since it was shuttered following the gas leak in 1995. But now that Sears has folded, questions remain about who will continue the cleanup. (Photo Credit: Sears Canada).

Shortly after Alberta Environment officials announced in December 2017 that remediation efforts are still needed at a former Sears Canada property in Calgary, the Canadian retail giant announced it was pulling out of its environmental cleanup of the Calgary property as it finalized the liquidation of its retail chain nationwide.

The Sears Canada Inc. gas station at the North Hill Centre mall in Calgary opened in 1958 and has been actively investigated since it was shuttered following the gas leak in 1995. According to Saskatchewan-based Clifton Associates, the environmental solutions company to first take on the cleanup, it focused on three contaminants:

  • Benzene – Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, total xylenes (BTEX), and petroleum hydrocarbon (PHC) fractions F1 and F2;
  • Naphthalene – Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); and
  • 1,2-Dichloroethane (1,2-DCA) – Volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Published summaries from Clifton Associates tell how the company performed a thorough groundwater investigation to characterize and explain groundwater impacts. It also prepared a site management plan to control impacts and reduce client liability. Clifton managed a remedial excavation within an active commercial site, remediating 69,000 m3 of impacted soil, and installed and operated a dual phase vapour extraction system within the residential community.

However, despite Clifton’s progress, Minister Shannon Phillips of Alberta Environment and Parks, stated in a December 2017 letter that while much of the contamination has been identified, “there is, however, a small level of uncertainty on where the edge of the contaminant plume is, and further delineation is required.” For context on how far the leak spread, in 2003, Leslie Kende, president of the Hounsfield Heights-Briar Hill community association, reported that gas had been detected three blocks south and two blocks west of the former site.

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Minister Phillips added that a new pilot remediation study was initiated in 2017, and that it would “take some time” for the pilot study to be evaluated as a remediation strategy.

“As this site involves deep subsurface contamination under a residential area, it is a long-term project with no simple remedial fix. Work that has been done to date indicates that there is negligible risk to human health; however, ongoing monitoring is needed to confirm this,” wrote Phillips.

Greg Paliouras, VP of Construction & Facilities for Sears Canada Inc., sent a letter to the Hounsfield Heights – Briar Hill Community Association (HH-BHCA) in late December, informing residents that all Sears stores would be closing in January, and that Sears was planning to end its environmental monitoring.

“In light of our current circumstances (including constraints placed on us by the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) court and the CCAA process, which is a court-supervised liquidation) and the obligation to maximize recoveries for creditors, despite our desire to allocate resources for this, we are unfortunately unable to make any commitments to continue further environmental work,” wrote Paliouras.

The letter added: “As part of previous and current site management plans, we have incurred significant costs and performed extensive work over the past 20 years or so on and around the North Hill Centre. Among other things, we have held public meetings, conducted surveys of residents, performed extensive drilling, installed and operated a dual phase vapour extraction system (which is still in operation at this time), established a hydrocarbon monitoring system of the soil and groundwater, and conducted health risk assessments. As communicated to relevant stakeholders during this period, we have found no evidence of risk to human health.”

It is too soon to tell who will be on the hook for the remaining costs of remediating the Sears property. However, Calgary has precedent in the story of Gas Plus, another gas station that went untended to for years following ground contamination. In the end, taxpayers were left with a $4.3-million cleanup bill as the province stepped in to remediate the site.

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1 COMMENT

  1. see the book – A Radioactive Waste Dump in Malvern; A Citizen’s Account, Create Space 2016. This book details how 48 lower socio economic families brought Case Law as it applies to waste. on/in land in Canada. This book also documents a number successful/near successful environment type legal actions in Canada. George Heighington, the author lived the on the Malvern Radioactive Waste Dump.

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