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Owners of apartment buildings in Montreal are fighting to have their land decontaminated. According to expert reports, the source of the contamination is underground, where the tanks of a former gas station were demolished in 2001. The cost of the work is in the millions of dollars, a bill that they do not 'do not intend to pay.

Contaminated land:

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Landowners are fighting an oil company to have their land decontaminated.

  • Jean-Luc Bouchard (View profile)Jean-Luc Bouchard

Sylvie Desmarais is the manager of an apartment building in Plateau-Mont-Royal. “I arrived here in December 1979. This was the first apartment I rented. I wanted to take care of the building, so I talked to the owner about it and offered him my services,” she recalls.

Today, Ms. Desmarais holds a general power of attorney in the name of the owner and she takes care of everything: accounts, work, disputes. The building dates from the 1940s, like several buildings in the area. It has thirteen apartments on three floors and a half-basement.

On the left, more recent condos contrast with the style of the time. This side was the tanks in Ultramar. Everything was concentrated here, explains Sylvie Desmarais, pointing out the condos. Before their construction in 2002, the intersection of Saint-Joseph Boulevard and Papineau Avenue was occupied by a gas station. When Ultramar came to fill the tanks, that's when it happened, adds Ms. Desmarais.

In 2019, Sylvie Desmarais announced to her employer that she wanted to retire. She and the owner therefore agreed to put the building up for sale. However, it is impossible to do this without first checking for the presence of contaminants. Otherwise, most financial institutions will refuse to grant a mortgage loan to a potential buyer.

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Sylvie Desmarais indicates the location of a drilling carried out in the semi-basement apartment of the building, in December 2019. < /p>

Ms. Desmarais therefore retained the services of Spheratest, an environmental assessment consulting firm. In October 2019, a first phase of analysis was carried out. The news is not encouraging. In an evaluation report, the experts report evidence of an environmental risk.

A few months later, Spheratest is carrying out a second phase of more in-depth analyses, which includes drilling. Result: Contaminants in significant concentrations are buried in the ground and cover a large part of the land. A chromatographic analysis confirms that the contaminant is indeed gasoline.

The test came out positive, indicating that the building was contaminated with the virus. gasoline, at a depth of six meters.

A quote from Sylvie Desmarais

The old gas station

Before obtaining the results, Sylvie Desmarais had found a potential buyer: the owner of the neighboring building, Daniel Paquin, who wanted to expand his real estate portfolio. Worried about the contamination of his neighbor, he also tested the soil. As he feared, the contaminant migrated to his property.

According to Spheratest, the identified source of the contamination is the old gas station. The contaminants would therefore have migrated parallel to Saint-Joseph Boulevard, several meters into the ground.

In order to obtain an independent point of view, we submitted the expert reports produced in this file to Vilma Goldstein, environmental engineer and project director at the Geninovation firm.

It's a pretty major contamination. It seems to have migrated horizontally and vertically and the concentrations are beyond the criteria allowed for a residential property, she notes, observing the sample results.

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Engineer Vilma Goldstein explains to us that some of the soil is so contaminated that it must be treated before being buried .

She adds that these are contaminants that are easy to detect due to odors and specifies that the environmental risk is real: The Ministry of the Environment has established guidelines for certain contaminants that can be left in place. On the other hand, petroleum hydrocarbons are not a contaminant that can be left in the soil.

The solution: You need to decontaminate the soil. According to engineer Vilma Goldstein, the simplest and quickest method is excavation.

We are on a small plot of land. There is no room to store the machinery and excavated soil. In addition, the building must be supported. This is a complex case.

A quote from Vilma Goldstein, engineer and project director, Geninovation

Sylvie Desmarais contacted a general contractor for the work. The decontamination itself is estimated at $2.5 million, not including all other work and taxes, which push the bill to $4 million. It is enormous! she says, exasperated. We want to sell to have peace of mind. I need to have healthy ground, simple as that.

We met lawyer Jean-François Girard, specialized in environmental law and partner at DHC Avocats. He explains that from the moment a person emits a contaminant into the environment, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, a court could determine that it is up to him to repair the damage.

To the extent that we are able to find the author of the mistake, I will ask him to correct the situation, he summarizes.

Sylvie Desmarais has mandated a lawyer to require the oil company to decontaminate the land of the apartment building. The neighboring owner, Daniel Paquin, joined the proceedings.

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On the left, Sylvie Desmarais, on the right, Daniel Paquin, in front of their respective buildings.

They receive a response from Parkland Corporation, the company today responsible for the environmental liabilities of the former Ultramar gas station.

Corporation Parkland undertakes to compensate your customers for any contamination related to the operations of the former gas station […]. We will appreciate receiving the environmental studies carried out by the firm Spheratest in order to determine the extent of the contamination and plan the necessary work.

A quote from Corporation Parkland

The owners are delighted with this favorable response. As the months went by, however, Sylvie Desmarais and Daniel Paquin became disillusioned. What seemed to them to be a settled issue becomes contentious. More than a year after the formal notice, the company does not plan to compensate them or decontaminate the land.

However, according to the consulting firm Spheratest, there is no doubt that the source of the contamination is the old gas station. Parkland Corporation refutes this conclusion.

The company writes that it committed no wrongdoing and that there is no conclusive evidence in the file which would demonstrate […] that Parkland is directly responsible for the alleged contamination.

She adds that the contaminant could be something other than gasoline, like paint, for example, particularly due to the industrial past of the quadrilateral.

Lawyer Jean-François Girard recalls that according to Spheratest's expertise, contaminants have the same chromatographic signature as gasoline that could have been found in a tank back when there was a gas station.

If there is someone who wants to claim the opposite, they must demonstrate it by expert, he specifies. For the moment, Corporation Parkland has not produced such an expertise.

Madame Desmarais and Mr. Paquin consider they no longer have a choice. They are taking legal action and asking the courts to decide.

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Satellite image produced in 2000. The building in blue next to the gas station is that of Sylvie Desmarais. The next one is that of Daniel Paquin.

In its defense, the company also places part of the blame on Sylvie Desmarais. When destroying the gas station, Ultramar took a soil sample in the driveway of Ms. Desmarais' building and wrote her a letter to notify her of the presence of contaminants. The oil company accuses it of having waited 20 years before reacting, which, according to it, made the problem worse.

Sylvie Desmarais is categorical: she never received this letter. Moreover, Corporation Parkland has still not provided proof of sending or receipt of the document. It's really exhausting, it's disturbing, it's tiring, complains Ms. Desmarais, who wants to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.

The neighboring owner, Daniel Paquin, also hopes for a quick resolution: Are we going to have favorable news for decontamination to take place? We would really appreciate it.

Sylvie Desmarais does not intend to give up: I think that at some point, we have to hold on and go all the way. This is exactly what I plan to do and then I want to retire.

Jean-Luc Bouchard's report is broadcast on the show La invoice on Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 12:30 p.m. on ICI TÉLÉ.

  • Jean-Luc Bouchard (View profile)Jean-Luc BouchardFollow
Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116