Next phase of homes on former Domtar site could come in 2023: developer

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The former Domtar site in northeast Edmonton could see the next phase of residential development begin in 2023 now that Alberta Environment and Parks has laid out the soil remediation criteria.

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Meanwhile, a study into elevated rates of cancer among area residents still hasn’t been completed more than two-and-a-half years after it was announced by Alberta health officials.

In 2018, residents of the Homesteader neighbourhood, which included the former Domtar Inc. wood-treatment operation, received letters warning their homes were near contaminated land.

A large fence was put up with signs warning the land was contaminated, primarily with dioxins and furans. These contaminants could lead to an increased risk to human health over a long period of time or in large amounts, Alberta Health Services said at the time.

In the report published Friday , Michael Lapointe, the government’s director of the contaminated sites and remediation section, said that for residential land use the soil remediation criteria for dioxins and furans is set at 330 parts per trillion.

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He said he based that number on the amount of the contaminants a toddler could be exposed to.

Developer Cherokee Canada, which owns the infill site including where Domtar operated called Verte Homesteader, and has already built about 85 homes on one smaller parcel of the property, has long maintained that the community is safe.

The company said Monday that soil testing confirms none of its existing developed community is affected, and that only a small amount of the undeveloped section may have levels over the criteria.

“These findings confirm what we have been saying all along,” managing partner John Dill said in a statement.

“In advance of any development in this area, we reviewed some 800 different third-party soil samples which were part of the development process. We would have never embarked on this project had we not been absolutely certain of the safety of the area.”

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Dill told Postmedia the company has already provided a remediation plan to the government for the undeveloped land and hopes that work can happen in 2022 with construction of homes in 2023.

The plan is to dig up the small amounts of remaining contaminated soil, place it at the base of a berm, cap it, and cover it with clean landscaping.

About 700 to 800 single-family homes could go up on the remaining 80 acre piece of the property, he said.

“It’s a great example of taking something that has had very little benefits, well, no benefits since it was closed, and turning it into a new productive asset that’s going to only do one thing, and that’s help people get housing and enhance the community,” he said.

Gunda Murray, president of the Homesteader Community League, said she’s glad that the remediation criteria have been set.

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Compared to the large fences and significant public attention that came with the news of potential contamination, the recent good news was released relatively quietly, she said.

“We want to see the area developed,” she said.

Officials have also been quiet when it comes to a study announced in March 2019 aimed at finding out why people living in the neighbourhood are experiencing higher rates of breast, endometrial and lung cancer.

In 2019, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said it would take up to a year before results of the health study are publicly available but nothing has been released.

Murray said that she is not personally concerned about the cancer risk but that having the question remain unanswered is frustrating.

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“You would have thought by now that we would have some answers. Even if something is inconclusive, just even let us know what’s going on. But we haven’t heard anything,” she said, adding that she recognizes officials have been busy due to COVID-19

Alberta Health did not respond to questions from Postmedia by deadline.

For his part, Dill said he’s not concerned about what the health study is going to say, pointing out the report will cover things well beyond Domtar.

“There’s a million ways you can get cancer and to try and suggest that it might be from one particular site within an area is like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” he said.

– With files from Lisa Johnson

ajoannou@postmedia.com

twitter.com/ashleyjoannou

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