Brantford city councillors on Monday deferred a motion to pledge $19.1 million in financing to remediate the Greenwich-Mohawk brownfield site.
Councillors agreed that something must be done to reclaim the sprawling Eagle Place brownfield for development. But until the city determines how to clean contaminated soil and calculates the actual cost of the massive project, politicians are unwilling to saddle taxpayers with future debt.
City staff provided council a preliminary cost estimate of $19.1 million for the municipal portion of the remediation project, putting the total cost at more than $35 million.
Brantford has $5 million from the province in hand, but $12 million in federal funding from Industry Canada hinges on the city having a plan to finance the project. The federal government has said the project must be completed by December 2016 to qualify for the funding.
Councillors were skeptical that the money staff requested on Monday represents the true cleanup cost. The cost estimate was based on data from Terrasan Corp., which is no longer involved in the Greenwich-Mohawk project.
Coun. Richard Carpenter called the estimate guesswork, noting that the project could “change in scope completely” by 2016. Carpenter, like other councillors, was unwilling to saddle the city with debt before knowing the actual cost.
“Why would we go ahead and approve $19 million when it could be $25 million or $30 million?” said Coun. Vince Bucci.
“I haven’t heard any justification to lead me to believe that this is an accurate number,” said Coun. Dan McCreary.
Gregory Dworak, the city’s general manager of community services, said staff could provide a firmer estimate once the city chose the remediation methods to be used. Should the cost increase, council could approve more funds by amending the bylaw, he said.
Ward 5 councillors Marguerite Ceschi-Smith and David Neumann urged their colleagues not to neglect the issue.
“We’re finally at a point where we can look at beginning the remediation of the brownfield site (and) bring it back to our community,” Ceschi-Smith said.
Ceschi-Smith acknowledged that the cost estimates were “scary,” but said the brownfield is a social and economic blight on the community.
The entire city benefited from the brownfield’s industrial past, Neumann said.
“Who’s benefiting now? Well, I can tell you who’s hurting and it’s the south end of the city,” he said.
Council decided to defer the vote until Sept. 10 while Mayor Chris Friel pursued financing options and political assurances from the federal government. Neumann and Ceschi-Smith opposed the motion.
Carpenter wants to see updated data, but hopes the delay will not jeopardize the federal funding.
“Beware of killing this whole project because you’re concerned about (spending) one per cent of the tax base to clean up the worst brownfield site in the city,” he said.