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Why CN Rail doesn't want to talk about soil contamination along the Okanagan rail corridor

An abandoned loading facility on the CN Rail corridor in Kelowna.
June 18, 2015 - 11:34 AM

OKANAGAN - CN Rail is refusing to release the contents of an environmental study into possible soil contamination along the 48-kilometre Okanagan rail corridor.

Even though the report has been reviewed in turn by an environmental consultant hired by the inter-jurisdictional acquisition team, the leader of the team says it will not release the details of what types of contamination may lie in the soil nor where the sites are located until after the deal has been completely concluded, likely in a couple of months.

“The report is proprietary to CN and we will not make it public. The track and ties will be removed from the property and it will be properly remediated to conditions acceptable to the City of Kelowna,” regional manager of CN public and government affairs Emily Hamer says.

“CN has no further comment," she says.

The CN Rail corridor, which stretches from downtown Kelowna to Coldstream in the North Okanagan, had been an operating railway from the early part of the 20th century until sub-leasor Kelowna Pacific Railway declared bankruptcy in 2013 and the short-line track reverted back to CN.

The communities through which the corridor passes — Kelowna, Lake Country, Coldstream, Vernon and the regional districts of North Okanagan and Central Okanagan — completed the purchase of the corridor earlier this month after a provincial judge denied a request for an injunction by the Okanagan Indian Band to stop the corridor sale because of its prior land claim to the Commonage Reserve.

Doug Gilchrist, the City of Kelowna administrator who leads the acquisition team, has reviewed both reports and says no real concerns have been identified, despite the long historical usage of the track.

“Any hotspots or areas of possible contamination were identifed along the corridor although the exact locations, I don’t have offhand," he says.

According to Gilchrist, CN conducted both a phase one and phase two environmental review.

“Phase one deals with all possible contamination issues including historical use,” he says. “You don’t just buy it based on condition and use today. The obligation of the environmental review is look as far back as the line existed if possible.”

Based on phase one results, Gilchrist says CN was obligated to conduct a phase two investigation.

“That’s how a phase one and two work. Phase one looks at historical useage and the likelihood of contamination, any known issues and anything listed in the environmental contamination registry.” he says. "They looked at where the trains refueled, where did they load and what did they load. All those things were considered as well. I believe some actual on-site test pits were conducted."

Gilchrist says the biggest environmental concern for them was the use of hundreds of creosote-treated railway ties and the possibility of their degredation and seepage of creosote through the crushed-rock railway bed.

“They looked at the ballast, the rock material, what it was made of, what sort of hydrocarbons were present, what types of thing are or might be in the ground. The discussions with our environmental consultant said this was not a concern and seepage from the ties was not likely.”

The fail-safe for the communities involved in the $50-million purchase is the requirement for CN to removed all equipment, rail ties and the rails themselves and to remediate the corridor to an industrial standard as defined by the Canadian Environmental Protection Agency, Gilchrist says.

“There’s nothing to hide here. We have absolute contractual protection for remediation and removal of assets that could have liability associated with it,” he says. “This would be an entirely different story if CN had no obligation to remediate. We would have gone into a much deeper level of detail on the environmental risks we could inherit in buying the property. Because the obligation is on them to remediate, there wasn’t a need to go beyond a phase two review."

Once a pair of property claims made by individuals living along the corridor are settled, Gilchrist says all documents relating to the sale would be made public.

To contact the reporter for this story, email John McDonald at or call 250-808-0143. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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