Appeal loss affirms safety of industrial land

Tyler Clarke
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A lengthy legal battle centred on alleged land contamination is over, and the City of Prince Albert has come out of things on the right side.

City of Prince Albert

At issue was a swath of land in the city’s North Industrial Park, which plaintiffs argued was contaminated by the city’s old landfill site, located upstream.

On Tuesday, the Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan issued the final nail in the coffin to this idea, upholding the Court of Queen’s Bench conclusion that the land is safe.

“The land should have no stigma attached to it, at all,” lawyer Mitchell Holash said. “That’s the finding of the courts and the finding of certainly our experts, which were the ones that the courts said were credible.”

Holash defended the city in this matter -- a process that has included four actions and nine plaintiffs.

As of this week, all nine plaintiffs failed to win their lawsuits against the city.

Tuesday’s final nail in the coffin came in the form of a final appeal from appellant Strand Theatre Ltd.

Strand Theatre Ltd. represents the company that owned and operated a drive-in movie theatre in the North Industrial Park area from the 1950s until 2004.

In February, 2000, the Strand Theatre accepted an offer to purchase the property for $325,000 -- an offer the purchaser ended up backing out of due to “a number of potential environmental concerns.”

Within the Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan’s findings are several pages of conflicting environmental findings and reports.

After considering and sifting through all of these conflicting stances, the courts ultimately concluded that the land was not contaminated.

“The concerns that there was leaching or contamination in the area has been totally put to rest, not only in the court case but also by Saskatchewan Environment as well,” Holash concluded.

“The reason we were successful is because the evidence was very clear that there was not any contaminating activity that can be detected in the area.”

This is an important finding for the city for two reasons, Holash said.

Reason No. 1 is financial.

“There were about a dozen plaintiffs in the area that sought recover in the range of several hundred thousand dollars in some cases, and in some cases more than $1 million, each, so it could have been a very significant impact on the tax base,” he explained.

The land should have no stigma attached to it, at all ... That’s the finding of the courts and the finding of certainly our experts, which were the ones that the courts said were credible. Mitchell Holash

Reason No. 2 is economic, he said, noting that it will allow the city’s North Industrial Park to remain a viable business centre.

“There’s people buying and selling property out there,” he said. “It’s desirable land for business use and productive land in the City of Prince Albert.”

Tuesday is the end to a legal process that dates back to the ’90s, city solicitor Ken Paskaruk said, pending it doesn’t carry onto the Supreme Court of Canada.

“I don’t think it’s of national interest,” he said, citing further court action as “extremely unlikely.”

However, the plaintiff still has to cover legal costs, including court tariff costs in excess of $20,000, Holash said, citing costs related to both Court of Queen’s Bench and Court of Appeal proceedings.

On top of that will be the expense related to the city’s hiring of expert witnesses.

“Those were very significant because of the nature of the different reports and the allegations that covered a lot of years,” Holash said, noting that the final figure has yet to be determined.

The city hired Dr. Giesy, an expert in environmental toxicology, to critique some environmental findings, concluding that there was “no consistent and persuasive evidence” of off-site migration of leachate from the city’s old landfills.

The city also hired Judd Henrey, a geoscientist, to review various reports that argued environmental contamination, concluding that they were “unconvincing, questionably-founded, and do not present a technically-sound argument” of City of Prince Albert landfill contamination downstream.

Organizations: Strand Theatre, Supreme Court of Canada

Geographic location: North Industrial Park, Saskatchewan, Prince Albert

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