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Sault pursuing waterfront remediation efforts

It’s been more than 30 years since much activity has taken place on a trio of properties owned by Suncor and Shell along Sault Ste. Marie ’s waterfront.
The City of Sault Ste. Marie wants to see cleanup at a trio of waterfront sites owned by Shell and Suncor, with the ultimate goal of redeveloping the properties to fit in with the rest of the waterfront.

It’s been more than 30 years since much activity has taken place on a trio of properties owned by Suncor and Shell along Sault Ste. Marie’s waterfront. But the city is hoping the prime pieces of real estate can be repurposed for new development, and the first step is to clean up the land.

In September, Jerry Dolcetti, the city’s commissioner of engineering and planning, issued a report recommending the city engage the companies in discussion to get them to undertake some land remediation on the properties, which have been left vacant and untended.

After being used as a petroleum storage site for half a century, the 9.3-acre Suncor property soils are contaminated with lead and petroleum hydrocarbons. In his report, Dolcetti notes that there has been interest in development, but “little has materialized, perhaps due to risk factors.”

“It’s contaminated, and there are ways, obviously, of correcting that problem, but it is very expensive,” Dolcetti said. “What we’d like to see is just have it maintained neater than what it is right now and let’s see if maybe down the road something more permanent can happen.”

Phase one and two environmental site assessments are needed in order to determine the level of contamination and provide a cost estimate for a complete risk assessment, Dolcetti writes. A second Suncor property, totalling 10.4 acres, has five tanks, offices and a storage building currently being used by a local building supply store.

The 12.29-acre Shell property hosts seven tanks, a rail spur and administration offices. Complaints about the condition of the property date back to 2008.

In its response to the city, Shell suggested the condition of the tanks on its property “did not constitute a structural issue and that health and safety concerns were met and the company was compliant with all regulations and laws of TSSA (Technical Standards & Safety) requirements,” Dolcetti writes.

Suncor has said it is waiting on the city to discuss further action on its properties, but in the meantime will work to improve the aesthetics of the Bay Street site.

“General cleanup, including some landscaping and fence repairs, will be included in this work,” writes Sophie Collins-Jacques, team leader, non-operating network, with Suncor, in a letter to the city.

Collins-Jacques also said Suncor was open to discussing future plans for the site with the city.

“In regard to the McNabb Street property, our distribution department is currently finalizing plans for this property,” she added. “I will commit to providing further clarification on this item over the next few months.”

An obligation of maintenance of the properties remains with the original owners, Dolcetti said, and leaving them vacant is the least costly option.

“It has to be cleaned up to a certain level and it probably is fairly expensive,” he said. “Even if you sell the property as is, the original owner is still obligated to make it clean.”

Improving their aesthetics is especially important in light of recent upgrades to the area.

Road and traffic infrastructure have been built, to the tune of $7.5 million, a city-wide walking trail has been extended along the waterfront, and private enterprises have enhanced their facades. Redevelopment of a number of nearby properties is also in the works.

“It’s unfortunate some of these buildings have outlived their usefulness and, unfortunately, to remove them is very costly as far as the demolition,” Dolcetti said. “I’m always hopeful that we’ll be able to finish these last two or three pieces of the waterfront and then we can have something right from the locks all the way to the hospital site that people can really enjoy.”

Dolcetti said he doesn’t expect much cleanup to happen until the spring of 2014, and no development plans will be formalized until that happens.

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