The sounds of birds chirping and frogs croaking in a meadow nestled in Highlands is a far cry from the toxic dumpsite it once was.
Muddy craters filled with murky water have been replaced with a manicured field of gravel at Millstream Meadows, a former regional dump that once threatened to contaminate Highlands groundwater.
The site is on the homestretch of a long, expensive process of remediation. Of the 13-hectare area, two septage lagoons near Millstream Road were deemed the most unsafe. Lagoon 1 was excavated and filled with clean earth. A portion of Lagoon 2 was excavated and left open and fenced off, with bedrock still exposed.
In total 76,000 metric tonnes of contaminated soil was excavated and trucked away in the fall of 2008 in a $10 million project. The contaminated area was less than one hectare.
“The lagoons are safe in terms of that there is no evidence (of any contaminants) moving out,” said Mary Anne Fillipone, manager for the Capital Regional District’s environmental programs.
Golder and Associates is monitoring Millstream Meadows quarterly through 35 wells scattered throughout the property. One of the wells in the centre of Lagoon 1 reaches down to bedrock, and is monitored monthly.
“We do this to ensure the water quality is good and no contamination moves back into the area,” Fillipone said. “When we excavated we believe we got the bulk of the main source of contamination.”
There is no evidence that any contaminants remain or are migrating out of former septage lagoon areas, Fillipone said. After an estimated two to four more years of monitoring, the CRD and the provincal government will look at selling the property – 61 per cent of the profit will go to the CRD, the same proportion as under the provincial cleanup agreement.
“Eventually it will be a new piece of property for development,” said Glenn Harris, senior manager of environmental protection for the CRD. “It’s going to be zoned for light industrial and commercial.”
Before Millstream Meadows can be sold, the CRD will apply for a certificate of compliance from the B.C. Ministry of Environment to deem the site safe for use.
If the certificate of compliance is obtained, it may state that the area will require ongoing monitoring. If that is the case, Fillipone said the CRD may continue monitoring, or it might be done by the new owner.
Millstream Meadows was a regional dump for septage, sewage and solid waste from the 1940s until closing in 1984. After a severe winter, diesel was detected in monitoring wells at the edge of the property in April 2007, indicating contaminants were migrating out, potentially into groundwater used for residential consumption.
In November 2007, the CRD went as far as distributing bottled water to nearby Highlands residents, and fast-tracked the cleanup.
“We had monitored the lagoons for years and in 2007 we noticed some contaminants,” Fillipone said. “That triggered more excavation (where) we believed the worst of the contamination to be.”