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INVESTIGATION: B.C.-owned addiction rehab environmentally safe: BC Housing

Agency confirms cleanup of hazardous materials on already-operating facility site
Baldy-Buildings-BH-Facebook
The Baldy Hughes Therapeutic Community sits on picturesque land southeast of Prince George once used by U.S. and Canadian military

BC Housing says government-owned property housing an addiction rehab centre is environmentally safe.

The agency said May 13 it had “completed significant remediation and renovations” at Baldy Hughes Therapeutic Community (BHTC), “and we know the buildings are a safe place for the residents to live, work and recover.”

However, BC Housing confirmed there had been contamination at the site housing men in addiction recovery for a year at a time. It had been operating for three years prior to the former BC Liberal government’s purchase of the land in 2010.

A Glacier Media investigation found land occupied by BHTC near Prince George was tainted with leaded paint, asbestos and other carcinogens and even uranium or mercury presence dating back to the Cold War.

The investigation also heard allegations the BC Liberal Party used BHTC for political purposes, allegations the party and those allegedly involved deny. The NDP has demanded an explanation.

The investigation articles can be read here and here.

BHTC is operated by the B.C. New Hope Recovery Society, which leased the land in as is” condition in 2007 before premier Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government bought it.

Men living at BHCT to this day receive intensive addictions counselling, health and fitness instruction, vocational and agricultural instruction and leadership skills lessons. Some consider BHTC a last-chance rehab for hardcore addicts to get healthy.

And it’s done on property where BC Housing said May 13 it has completed extensive remediation and upgrades totalled $6.3 million, including  abatement work to remove hazardous materials.

As late as October 2019, though, a BC Housing project request for proposals identified asbestos and lead paint as issues for abatement. It also outlined building and fire code problems.

“Over the last 10 years, we have spent approximately $180,000 on these kinds of jobs,” BC Housing said January 29.

That spending is half of what was suggested in a pre-purchase report, the bulk of it going to a BC Liberal Party donor.

BC Housing said asbestos and lead in building materials pose a risk only if disturbed. It said safe work procedures, guided by WorkSafe BC regulations, were followed during the BC Housing-led renovations at Baldy Hughes.

“The remaining asbestos and lead in the buildings are contained and in good condition, they don’t pose a threat of harm to the residents,” BC Housing said.

Despite this, Baldy Hughes has twice been cited for WorkSafeBC violations on asbestos, safety checks and respirators since the 2010 government purchase.

“No risk assessment was conducted prior to cutting into the wall with a power tool,” a May 2015 WorkSafeBC report said, adding those doing the work had not been given “adequate instruction or training about the potential of encountering asbestos dust.”

Other contaminants

A 1987 federal Department of Defence bas-closure study noted other carcinogens at the site after decades of use by the U.S. and Canadian military.

It found significant soil contamination from carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) from transformers and capacitors; ground contamination from crankcase oil; radiation from the radar facility; and asbestos pipe insulation, floor tiles and siding.

Septic tank overflow testing found, “elevated levels of hydrocarbons, cadmium, copper, mercury, lead, and zinc.” Low levels of PCBs were found in the soil.

“BC Housing is aware of the Department of Defence study,” the agency said. “Prior to development on any property, BC Housing’s best practice is to conduct environmental and geotechnical assessments at the site.”

Further, it said,  before purchasing the Baldy Hughes site, three environmental assessments were commissioned.

“BC Housing completed remediation of all of the areas identified in the report. This work was defined, supervised and reviewed by professional environmental engineers,” it said.

However, B.C.’s Ministry of Environment has no records of that.

“Environment’s Land Remediation (LR) records for the site are limited to several records dating back to 1989 and earlier.  This pre-dates introduction of British Columbia’s contaminated sites legislation and Land Remediation has not been provided with information about any further environmental work that may have taken place since that time.”

But, the ministry said, queries about work after the late 1980s should be addressed to BC Housing and local land authorities.

A November 2009 appraisal report suggests the land has potential for subdivision work, which it said “will involve extensive environmental investigations.”

BC Housing said it has replaced an old, contaminated sewage lagoon; replaced an asbestos gym floor in 2018, done water system upgrades, security upgrades, environmental cleanup, and building renewals, electrical and power generator upgrades and installed a new commercial kitchen.

That 2014 kitchen project contract, done with $500,000 in funding from former Liberal health minister Kevin Falcon, went to IDL Projects Inc. From 2006 to 2016, IDL Projects president Dennis Schwab gave $25,259 to the Liberals, $1,004 of that to interim party leader Shirley Bond.

The electrical system work went to Prince George’s Centre City Electric in 2014. The company gave the Liberals $1,000 in 2013.

And, when hazardous material cleanup work was paid in 2014, the $160,000 contract went to Tervita Corp., which gave the Liberals $14,000 in 2013.

BC Housing said the society also led and paid for some renovations and upgrades. Society chair Kevin England was sent the BC Housing response to Glacier Media but did not respond.

Land Purchase

Glacier Media has reported several ownership changes that ended with Edmonton-based Prowler Leasing winning the land at auction in July 2007 for $650,000.

Three years later, the Provincial Rental Housing Corp. (BC Housing’s real estate arm) paid $2.85 million for the land. From that, $175,000 was deducted as an “environmental remediation purchase credit,” heavily redacted BC Housing documents show.

However, BC Assessment put the 2010 assessed value at $648,000. 

BC Housing says a third-party appraisal valued the property at $4.5 million.

“This estimate of value makes an assumption there are no significant costs associated with clean up of any contamination,” the appraisal said.

So why the $1.7 million difference?

“In December 2010, BC Housing purchased the Baldy Hughes property for $2.8 million,” the agency said. “This amount is significantly less than the value because of successful negotiations with the sellers, payment statutory fees and deductions for rent arrears.”

But that doesn’t fit with what the BHTC co-founder Lorne Mayencourt has told Glacier Media.

He said the asking price in 2007 was $2.2 million in 2007.

“We leased it. We wanted to lock the price in for the property so we had a lease price and a purchase price,” Mayencourt has said.

The appraisal noted the society “had made considerable capital investment.”

Several principals of the appraisal company in 2017 donated $1,000 to then-Liberal leadership candidate Todd Stone, Kamloops South Thompson MLA and former minister of transportation and infrastructure.

Glacier Media received allegations addicts at BHTC had been given Liberal Party membership lists to call members and solicit support for Falcon’s party leadership candidate a decade ago.

Those allegations have been denied and Elections BC said there is no apparent contravention of the Election Act and would not be investigating.

The Ministry of Attorney General could not comment on how any potential lawsuits arising from the situation at BHTC might be handled.

 

jhainsworth@glaciermedia.ca

@jhainswo