Fresh approach emerges for renewing Guelph’s IMICO brownfield site
— Much could be quickly done with a large parcel of vacant land in the centre of the city – if only it were clean enough to be developed.
A community group focused on rehabilitating the site is trying to kick-start discussion and imagination around the former IMICO foundry site at 200 Beverley St..
Bordered by railway tracks to the north, Stevenson and Beverley streets along its edges, the St. Patrick’s Ward site has sat in a state of toxic inertia since 1989. It is owned by default by the city after its former owner defaulted on property taxes.
More than 20 years is far too long for a potentially useful piece of property to sit, say people like Susan Detwiler. She’s a Guelph artist and resident of The Ward, who, along with others, has started Arts and Science Lab: Neighbourhood Revitalization Project.
Detwiler and co-chair of the project Peter Beckett, envision the land being used initially as a kind of ecological detoxification/research site, whereby its industrial contamination would be cleaned up through a long-term bioremediation process. In this vision, miniature biospheres incorporating streams, ponds, various plants and microbes would act as land scrubbers, filtering toxic elements like heavy metals from the soil.
The processes involved could serve a scientific and educational purpose, acting as an outdoor laboratory of sorts, Detwiler said Monday at the site. She also sees great potential for solar energy generation on the land property.
The land is currently servicing no purpose, and hasn’t since it ceased being an active industrial operation 23 years ago.
“It’s very toxic, and the price of conventional remediation is too high for it to be practical to make a profit for a typical developer,” Detwiler said in an interview, adding the site is “much more toxic” than the W.C. Wood property, on Arthur Street, which is currently being reclaimed.
International Malleable Iron Company opened a foundry on Beverley Street in 1912. IMICO specialized in producing malleable and cast iron pipe fittings. It owed the city more than $1 million in unpaid property taxes when it shut down, and the company failed to clean up the site before signing it over to the city.
“We see this as a kind of arts and science project,” said Detwiler, “bringing different disciplines of thinking and knowledge together to solve environmental problems. We are trying to hook up with some scientists and water technology people, because we need those science people.”
The group is also busy bringing local academics, researchers, artists and politicians into the discussion in order to generate diverse opinion on how to solve the land’s problems, Detwiler said. She said gradual remediation through environmental processes is a viable alternative. Had the brownfield site been a promising one for a developer, she said, it likely would have been developed years ago.
Colin Baker, Guelph’s municipal environmental engineer, said Monday the city is examining options for the land, which is contaminated primarily with heavy metals. There is surface and bedrock contamination with elements like zinc, related to deposits of foundry sand, slag and cinders left from industrial activities.
Baker said the cost of remediation is prohibitive for the city alone, estimated to be between $4 and $6 million.
“It’s probably not practical for the city to embark on the process of reclamation,” he said, adding that a 2010 study of the land, funded by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, helped the city better understand the cost of cleaning up the site.
City council at that time directed staff to engage the private sector to explore options for the site, including an initial risk assessment of the land.
The city remains interested in learning if someone in the private sector is interested in remediation and development of the land, Baker added. To that end, a request for proposals will be launched in April. Baker said it is possible that a consortium with the necessary financial and environmental resources needed for such a project might see potential in the property.
“We are trying to get that feedback from the private sector to help tell us whether or not that potential exists,” Baker said. “That is what this process is going to lead to.”
About 10 years ago, the city hired a consultant to examine that potential. Global engineering firm CH2M Hill came out with a report in late 2003. It found that the contamination on the site was “a constraint to development,” but still found potential in the site for a number of uses.
In its report, which is available online, the firm favoured residential developments over all others, with a townhouse development, a multi-storey residential development, or a mixed residential/commercial development, all getting high ratings in the report.
Detwiler and Beckett envision something quite different. The early stages of the remediation work would see a park-like natural ecosystem established on the land. As toxic levels are reduced, additional development could take place, most of it a type of artist/artisan village with studios, galleries, bakery, a farmer’s market and a performance pavilion.
To bring such a vision to fruition would require a consortium of diverse individuals and organizations, including educational institutions, all levels of government, business and environmental groups.
By Rob O'Flanagan, Mercury staff, www.guelphmercury.com, Updated: February-07-12 12:55 PM