Water will always run downhill and this frightens Whitehorse resident Harry Kulych.
He’s particularly worried when he considers a soil-treatment facility slated to be built three kilometres above his home.
On Monday city council gave Castle Rock Enterprises a conditional land-use permit so the company can build its treatment facility next to an existing gravel quarry.
The facility will treat dirt contaminated by oil and gas hydrocarbons at the top of the Haeckel Hill Ski Road.
Kulych, who lives in the McPherson subdivision, is concerned that leaks in the containment cells that will hold contaminated soil could result in catastrophic groundwater contamination.
“Water will always run downhill,” he said, and it’s only a matter of time before something happens and the water in the McPherson subdivision is polluted.
In this case, the city is passing the buck back to the Environment department and the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.
Castle Rock Enterprises has the land-use permit on the condition it abide by the recommendations set out in a YESAB document.
“We are not hydrologists ourselves and we don’t have the technical background, so for council to try to pass judgment on documents we don’t understand to that level, it doesn’t make sense,” said Whitehorse mayor Bev Buckway.
“We’re going to put our faith in the YESAB people and the environmental people because that’s their job, that’s what they deal with.”
Castle Rock’s permit is also conditional on a detailed hydrogeological study being completed before construction of the facility can begin.
During this study, groundwater-monitoring wells will be drilled and water flow direction will be observed.
Groundwater could become contaminated with hydrocarbons from the soil being treated, in which case the Environment department would revoke Castle Rock’s environmental permit or insist remedies be put in place.
“I think it needs to be pointed out that the department of Environment has said that the risk of contamination resulting from a land-treatment facility is very low in comparison with the risk of leaks from petroleum hydrocarbon storage facilities,” said Paul Ingles from Access Consulting, a firm hired by Castle Rock to plan for a land-treatment facility.
“There really is such a small potential for contamination of groundwater, let alone contamination of (McPherson) groundwater wells,” said Ingles.
As well, if hydrocarbons seeped into the soil and groundwater they would be caught at the monitoring wells first and hopefully stopped there reaching the subdivision, be said Ingles.
For the groundwater to become contaminated, the liner of the containment cell, which is covered by one metre of sand, would have to be torn, or the land being treated would have to spill over the side of one of the containments cells.
“The chances of either of those happening are really quite small and it also needs to be stated that the level of contamination of soil that’s going to be treated in this land-treatment facility is quite small,” said Ingles.
Soil contamination is measured in parts per million and industrial contaminated soil is about 1,000 part per million of hyrdrocarbons — this is 0.1 per cent contamination, he said.
There is already a land-treatment facility in the McLean Lake area owned by Arctic Backhoe.
When asked if he thought the city could sustain two land treatment facilities, Ingles answered: “It depends on when people are going to clean up the huge number of contaminated sites.”
There is polluted land in the Marwell area and in other locations that have seen industrial activity. These must be treated, said Ingles.
“Anywhere where there has been underground fuel storage tanks, there’s a good chance that the soil has been contaminated with hydrocarbons and it needs to be cleaned up.”