Civic report seeks lead clean-up of park, outdoor rink

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The City of Winnipeg is considering a half-million-dollar proposal to remove lead-contaminated soil from a pair of public spaces that have been closed since spring.

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The City of Winnipeg is considering a half-million-dollar proposal to remove lead-contaminated soil from a pair of public spaces that have been closed since spring.

The money will be used to remediate a section of Mission Park and an outdoor hockey rink at the Weston Memorial Community Centre. The city shut down both sites in June, installing fencing and signage to warn the public of the danger.

“We have a report saying there are lead contamination levels that need to be addressed,” said Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface), whose ward includes Mission Park.

Mission Park in St. Boniface was shut down in June because of elevated lead levels in the soil. Fixing the problem will require the city to remove around 75 millimetres of topsoil and replace it with fresh soil. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

“I think it would be completely irresponsible to not go forward and clean up these park sites… These are our lands and we need to know they are safe.”

The public service recommendation is based on an independent report, commissioned by the Manitoba government in 2021.

Last fall, more than 2,000 surface soil samples were collected from 53 school properties and 149 parks. Of the parks, 97 were below guidelines, 16 had minor exceedances, 14 were identified as low priority, 17 were identified as medium priority, and five were identified as high priority.

The province recommended the Mission Park and Weston sites receive remediation.

Fixing the problem will require the city to remove around 75 millimetres of topsoil from a section of Mission Park and replace it with fresh soil. At the Weston rink, the contaminated area will be replaced with new asphalt, said David Domke, Winnipeg manager of parks and open space.

The public service request is the first step in the process. The city’s community services committee will vote on the proposal early next week, before passing it along to city council, which has the final say.

If the budgetary request passes, the work will be completed before the end of summer 2023, Domke said.

If it does not, the contaminated area in Mission Park will remain closed to the public. The Weston rink will be open only in the winters, when the area is considered safely covered with a layer of ice.

Other high-priority sites in the city include La Verendrye Park, William Whyte Park, Rejoice Fun Park, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary School.

The city said it plans to continue monitoring these areas and may address soil remediation in the future, hopefully with some financial support from the provincial government.

“We need to expedite this because its a public areas… so the city is going to be paying for it and then we’ll look at other sources of funding in the longer term,” Domke said. “It’s most important to get this thing taken care of.”

Allard has registered to speak in favour of the request when it goes before the community services committee next week.

Coun. Vivian Santos (Point Douglas) also plans to speak, but questions why the province isn’t immediately pitching in.

“I obviously want it to happen, but I thought it was under the provincial government’s mandate to deal with it, because it is a health matter,” Santos said. “The province can’t continue to download these issues on to the city.”

A spokesperson for the province was not available for comment Wednesday.

Provincial legislation surrounding lead-contaminated soil states property owners are responsible for funding remediation efforts. Both sites are city owned.

According to the U.S.-based Mayo Clinic, lead presents an extreme risk to children and fetuses, with even low levels of exposure potentially impacting behaviour and intellectual development. In adults, lead can cause headaches, abdominal pain and mood disorders.

Trace amounts of lead commonly exist in the air, soil, household dust and water. Lead exposure has declined significantly over the last four decades, owing to the removal of lead from gasoline, paint and other consumer products.

The province recommends washing hands and vegetables to reduce the chances of inadvertently ingesting contaminated soil.

tyler.searle@freepress.mb.ca

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