North Bay, Department of National Defence entering $20M pact to clean contaminated water near airport

The City of North Bay and the Department of National Defence (DND) have struck an agreement on a $20 million cleanup of water and soil near the Jack Garland Airport. (File)

The City of North Bay and the Department of National Defence (DND) have struck an agreement on a $20 million cleanup of water and soil near the Jack Garland Airport.

Under the deal, which requires city council approval, DND will pay $19.4 million of the cost to remediate water contaminated by perfluoralkylated (PFA) substances.

"PFAs have been used to manufacture carpets, clothing, and fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food, and other materials for several years," said a report headed to city council July 13.

"They are also used in aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) for firefighting by airfields. The Department of National Defense utilized a firefighting foam containing perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOs) at 22 Wing North Bay facilities for many years."

Between 1939 and 1998, Transport Canada owned the land where the airport sits; the city took ownership in 1998.

"It has been determined through sampling that private drinking water taken from Lees Creek and Trout Lake contain PFAs," the report said.

While there are no formal guidelines for PFAs in drinking water, the Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks (MECP) has provided interim advice for PFA levels in water.

"The city’s municipal drinking water is below the interim advice value," the report said. "There is also currently a drinking water advisory for Lees Creek warning the public not to drink the water, and MECP has a ban on eating the fish from Lees Creek due to PFAS levels detected in fish."

In 2018, the city investigated PFO levels in soil and groundwater on the airport site and found they exceeded federal guidelines.

"The city proceeded to notify DND and senior federal politicians of these exceedances, at which point DND suggested a shared responsibility contract," the report said.

"Moving forward, the consulting and remediation works at the airport site will be managed by the city and funded through the contribution agreement."

Costs could rise to $39M

The six-year, $20 million cost-sharing agreement was reached in early May, and approved by the federal treasury board last month. DND will pay 97 per cent of the cost, with the city providing the remaining $600,000.

While a good start, the rough estimate to complete the work is $39 million, the report said.

"This is a very rough estimate … which could vary up to 50 per cent," the report said. "The estimated costs are based on assumptions made to date, however these assumption depend heavily on decisions made in the next years during consultation with MECP."

Under the agreement, North Bay can make a second funding application if more remediation work needs to be done.

Read the full report here.