Kingston City Council votes to cover Belle Park landfill repair costs

During a meeting held over Zoom on Tuesday, Sep. 5, 2023, Kingston City councillors vote to add $1.5 million to the Business, Real Estate and Environment Department’s capital budget to cover extensive repairs at Belle Park. Screen captured image.

On Tuesday, Sep. 5, 2023, Kingston City Council voted to approve a capital budget amendment to cover unscheduled repairs to the City’s environmental control systems at the Belle Park landfill. As Kingstonist reported last week, staff had asked councillors to approve a motion to add $1.5 million to the Business, Real Estate and Environment Department’s capital budget to cover extensive repairs after the park’s groundwater pump system and overhead electrical infrastructure were vandalized. 

According to a staff report distributed in advance of Tuesday’s meeting, the acts of vandalism occurred in early August and “included the downing of several hydro poles, pumps removed from wells, stolen cabling and transformers, and destruction of pump control systems.” At the same time, several “copper-containing components” were also stolen from the site. On Tuesday night, staff confirmed that a chainsaw was used to carry out the damage. 

While the landfill is no longer open to the public, the damaged infrastructure is vital to protecting the nearby Cataraqui River from experiencing any environmental impacts due to the “leachate-contaminated groundwater” at the site. “The continued operation of the system is required to prevent environmental damage. Environmental operations and monitoring at Belle Park are done in accordance with a management plan developed and updated by the City and the engineer of record in cooperation with the [provincial] Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP),” noted the report.

The report went on to add that staff had consulted with the engineers of record for the landfill, Malroz Engineering Inc., who estimated the cost of the repairs at $1.5 million. While staff had asked councillors to approve an amendment to the Business, Real Estate and Environment Department’s capital budget, with the money coming from the Environment Reserve Fund, the report did not provide a breakdown of specific repair costs. 

During Tuesday night’s meeting, which took place over Zoom due to “technical difficulties” inside Council Chambers at Kingston City Hall, councillors had an opportunity to question staff on the recommendations of the report andthe nature of the vandalism. First to speak was Meadowbrook -Strathcona District Councillor Jeff McLaren, who inquired about the status of the suspected vandals, asking, “Have these chainsaw-wielding psychos been caught?”

After a brief pause from all in attendance, City Solicitor Jenna Morley confirmed there is an “ongoing police investigation” into the matter, adding, “We’re not privy to any information about that investigation, including potential suspects, right now.”

Kingstonist has reached out to Kingston Police regarding this investigation, however, police indicated they are often called to Belle Park and, despite the media relations office stating it had reached out to the Criminal Investigation Unit for comment, no follow-up response from Kingston Police was received.

With respect to the budgetary impacts of the report, McLaren then asked staff how the $1.5 million would affect future City spending, to which the City’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Lanie Hurdle replied that the fund typically supports a range of different projects, including property remediation.

“Obviously, those are funds we’re not going to be able to spend on those programs because we do need to move forward with these repairs,” she said.

While the budget amendment will not be covered by a tax increase, Morley did note the $1.5 million would be equivalent to a 0.6 per cent increase in taxes. 

With respect to Malroz’s involvement in preparing the cost estimates and carrying out the repairs, Loyalist-Cataraqui District Councillor Paul Chaves asked whether the City had its own engineers who could have done the work for less. The City’s Environment Director Paul MacLatchy explained that the pumping control system requires “specialty electric engineering,” and the City does not currently have an engineer qualified to conduct that sort of work.

Given that the damaged infrastructure plays a critical role in protecting the Cataraqui River from harmful contaminants, Portsmouth District Councillor Don Amos asked staff to comment on the impact the system’s shutdown has had on the river. MacLatchy replied, “I can confirm that as soon as the pumps went down, our environmental engineer on the site mobilized additional site surveillance along the perimeter of the site, [and] that’s how we can tell whether or not there’s any groundwater seepage from the site, as we basically look for the iron staining along the shoreline.”

As for what the $1.5 million will cover, MacLatchy confirmed the costs are to bring the system back to where it was prior to going offline. He indicated that repairs will also incorporate additional measures to make the system “more robust,” in an attempt to prevent future acts of vandalism, noting “things like concrete poles instead of wooden poles, for example, [as well as] poles being higher in the air and more underground electrical than overhead” as some of the measures staff will look to implement on-site. 

While repairs are ongoing, MacLatchy added that water technicians are able to carry out the necessary environmental work through the use of mobile generators. “They are able to hook up to the individual pumps and pump them intermittently, so the pumping system is still working. We’ll be continuing to do that until the system is back to its normal state,” said the director. 

The next councillor to speak was Kingscourt-Rideau District representative Brandon Tozzo, who asked what measures the City has taken to prevent similar acts of vandalism in the future, both at Belle Park and other “vulnerable” sites.

“In response to the vandalism, we have put in place additional security controls through Belle Park to specifically look at our pumping and electrical infrastructure, to hopefully prevent future damage to it,” MacLatchy said, noting that the measures are included in the department’s operating budget. 

As for how the incidents at Belle Park compare to previous instances of damage to City property, CAO Hurdle said the situation at Belle Park is worse.

“We haven’t seen that same level of vandalism anywhere else in the city,” she acknowledged. “This one is pretty significant. We’ve had, obviously, some vandalism to our other properties, but they’re minor compared to what we’re looking at at Belle Park.”

Throughout Tuesday’s meeting, many councillors expressed their disappointment about the situation and the fact the City will be forced to spend valuable money and resources to carry out the repairs. Lakeside Councillor Wendy Stephen described the act of vandalism as “really disappointing for our community… I think all of Council feels that, [and] I imagine staff feel that, too. The public certainly feels that. This is not what anyone here wants to spend money on, but we can probably agree this is unfortunately one of those critical repairs that has to be done.” 

With $1.5 million needed from the Environment Reserve Fund to cover the costs of the repairs, Trillium Councillor Jimmy Hassan asked how the reserve would be topped up in the future. City Treasurer Desiree Kennedy explained that the reserve is not funded by taxes, but comes instead from profits generated by certain City programs, including Utilities Kingston’s water appliance rentals, as well as the brownfield tax recovery program.

“Those [profits] will continue to go into that reserve find and build back up that balance,” she noted.  

Hassan added, “It’s time for us to make some hard decisions, and I’m sure we as a Council will [take] some tough measures to fight this kind of vandalism and loss to our City properties.” 

Considering the fact that much of the stolen equipment contained valuable copper elements, Williamsville Councillor Vincent Cinanni asked staff if it would be possible to monitor whether stolen materials end up at local scrap yards or recycling centres: “Is there a way they can tell where these materials are coming from, and do they monitor who is selling these materials to try to figure out who sells stolen materials?”

In response, Mayor Bryan Paterson noted that the issue would be best addressed at the upcoming Police Services Board meeting, which he and Councillor Hassan will be attendaing.

“That’s actually a good question… that Councillor Hassan and I would raise at the next Police Services Board meeting… and we’d be happy to report that information to Council,” said Paterson.

In addition to the $1.5 million in system repairs, the report also noted the City is currently spending $10,000 per week on temporary measures that have been set up to prevent further acts of vandalism while allowing environmental staff to carry out their regular work. When asked by Sydenham District Councillor Conny Glenn how long the temporary measures would stay in place, MacLatchy said, “We expect to be in this temporary operating mode until probably the end of the year… It’s going to greatly exceed our operating budget.” The director added that when a department exceeds its operating budget, such overages are often covered by the City’s working fund reserve.

If the temporary measures have been put in place since the week following the incidents of vandalism (the week beginning August 7), the costs associated with those measures (at $10,000 per week over 22 weeks) will roughly work out to $220,000 by the end of 2023.

Councillors ultimately voted unanimously to support the capital budget amendment. With the funding now secured, staff will continue to work with Malroz, who will carry out the repairs on the City’s behalf. 

Members of the public can view the full agenda from the meeting on the City of Kingston’s City Council meetings webpage, and the meeting can be viewed in full on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.

Leave a Reply

You cannot copy content from this page, please share the link instead!