Legion 212’s contaminated land

Legion 212’s contaminated land

By Tracey Arial

For years Fred Jennings, the president of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 212 in LaSalle, expressed deep gratitude to LaSalle. He used to appreciate that the former city’s gift of land in December 1962 gave the Legion a chance to grow bigger than the 5th Avenue location they once inhabited.

Disappointing actions by the borough lately, though, have made him wonder.

His most recent disappointment occurred Monday morning, when councillor Laura Palestini was supposed to arrive for a 9 a.m. meeting. She didn’t show up.

“I hope nothing’s wrong,” he said, drinking a cup of coffee.

After a couple of hours of waiting, he went home.

Just a week earlier, Jennings spoke to a reporter about his frustrations with the borough, from their refusal to help with the tax issue last year, to the bullying he faced around the Remembrance Day Services to disrespect last week at the borough meeting.

Jennings had accompanied fellow member Joseph Pugliese to inform Barbe that a recent phase II report indicates high levels of dangerous contamination on the Legion property.

Pugliese told Barbe about the test and then asked her in English why she assured Jennings last year that tests completed on the property in the 1980s were clean.

Mayor Manon Barbe responded in French.

“My hearing’s not real good and I don’t really understand French well enough in crowds,” said Jennings. “I had no idea what anyone said.”

It’s not so surprising that the tests indicated contamination. A May 1967 case study by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) appears in a 1997 CMHC roundtable guide called Redeveloping Contaminated Sites for Housing. It says that the Quebec Ministry of Environment identified 7,000 cubic metres of toxins, including PCBs, laid in trenches throughout an area next to Bouvier and Shevchenko. Quebec and the City of LaSalle then cooperated to remove 1,000 cubic metres of contaminated materials and bury them elsewhere.

The cleanup project was enormous. It cost $10 million and forced the demolition of eight houses and the temporary relocation of 65 people.

A February 1987 study by J.G. Bonnier called Expose historique de l’ancien depotoire municipal de ville de Lasalle, 1984-1987 compares the cleanup to the Love Canal incident in Niagara Falls, New York.

Bonnier’s report includes a map of all the test sites conducted by Quebec’s environmental ministry in the 1980’s, but none are located on Legion property.

Like the Love Canal, the Bouvier Schevchenko neighbourhood used to house industrial operations and a municipal dump.

In 1913, it was purchased by Cook Construction, a company in charge of expanding the Montreal aqueduct for the city. War costs halted the public funds required to complete the project and the company dissolved in 1921. The property was then sold to John Findlay, from Wentworth Realties. The City of LaSalle seized it in 1945.

LaSalle operated the location as a municipal dump, initially on its own but then in partnership with J.E. Giroux. The dump closed in 1959.

The Legion got the land in December 1962 via contract between the City of LaSalle, J.E. Giroux’ Refuse Disposal Company and the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League.

Ground-breaking took place six months later. Legion members moved from their old building on 5th Avenue to the new one on Bouvier after that.

The Legion has since been functioning well in the same location. Last year, it lost its taxexempt status and the City of Montreal began charging thousands of dollars in property taxes.

Pugliese’s discovery that the owners of the property next door pay no property taxes because of contamination on their property led him to suggest phase one and two tests on Legion land.

Jennings has now hired lawyer Norman Pinel to handle the case.

“We are going to make a request to reduce the taxes,” said Pinel. “I’m in the process of verifying what else can be done.”

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The photo shows Fred Jennings (left) and Joseph Pugliese (right) in LaSalle borough hall on January 12.
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