New guide might help Chilliwack clean up contaminated properties

Hemmera Consultants and city staff created "a simplified guide" to explain the steps involved with brownfield investigation and remediation

Barriers to downtown development presented by “brownfields” have been vexing Chilliwack for years.

Now Chilliwack council has come up with a way to encourage property owners to clean up potentially contaminated and actual contaminated sites, in the downtown core.

Hemmera Consultants worked with city staff to create “a simplified guide” to explain the steps involved with brownfield investigation and remediation process of hazardous substances in the soil and water underground.

The Brownfield Redevelopment Guide, developed by staff, was received by council for information, on June 18.

The guide is geared to helping owners navigate the remediation process required before redevelopment can take place, explained engineering and planning director David Blain, during the staff report at the last council meeting.

Common examples are Section II properties that once saw gas stations or dry cleaner businesses on them.

The complexity, confusion, potential liability and the remediation costs all “add up to become barriers,” Blain explained to council.

But in fact most of the front-end work of the remediation process is not that complicated, he said, and the guide helps demystify and simplify it by providing a chart that explains the steps.

The net result is a guide officials hope will help speed up remediations.

The next step is distributing the guide, and working with clients at the city hall counter, he said.

Coun. Jason Lum asked if it would be possible for staff to prepare a list of the brownfield properties, “so we could flag them up front.”

Blain replied it was something staff could likely do, based on information obtained from past business licences.

“Some of that work was already done in the past,” he said.

They could start with a core area, Blain added.

Coun. Chuck Stam queried about ways to “stir them out of their sleep,” referring to owners of such properties that may require remediation, “so they don’t have to wait another 25 years” to redevelop.

Blain agreed an action plan could be completed.

Mayor Sharon Gaetz summed it up as a “struggle” that council has been engaged in for a long time.

“We don’t have much in the way of a carrot,” she said, adding that she was glad the background work had been done by staff in the form of the new guide.

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