Mess at wastewater dump leaves southern Alta company with hefty bill

(Shootin' the Breeze) – Pincher Creek’s mayor and council heard sharp criticism last week from a business manager who said the town’s “inept handling” of suspected wastewater contamination cost his company nearly $10,000 in cleanup fees, plus lost earnings.

Alan McRae, manager at Triple T Energy’s work yard near the intersection of Hunter Street and Highway 6, said the town shut down the company’s sanitation dump for 12 days last July after municipal sanitation workers traced thick black sludge to the dump.

“Obviously, that impacted my business, because for two weeks, I couldn’t dump anything there. I had to turn people away,” McRae told the town’s committee of the whole Feb. 1.

A laboratory test later determined that the sludge did not contain hydrocarbons associated with oil and gas. It turned out to be residue from a residential septic tank, according to McRae.

“It’s called black water for a reason,” he later told Shootin’ the Breeze.

The town sent Triple T a $9,500 bill for lab testing and for the cleanup job by Lonestar West, a Sylvan Lake area company that provides hydrovac and vacuum truck services.

“I hope you realize your inept handling of the situation cost one of your taxpayers $9,500, plus loss of income to the septic dump site being shut down, McRae said in his closing remarks.

McRae had told the committee he was frustrated because Triple T wasn’t given the opportunity to handle the cleanup and because operations manager Al Roth (since retired) and a town bylaw officer had entered the company work yard unannounced.

“Why are we phoning a company four hours away, in Sylvan Lake, to come and clean this stuff up?” McRae asked, noting that Triple T or other local companies could’ve dealt with the mess for less money.

“Why did Al Roth and the bylaw officer think they could access my property without prior notice?” he continued, citing the town’s June 2022 wastewater utility bylaw (No. 1632-22).

According to section 6.2 of the bylaw, “The town shall have free access to all parts of a property, building or other premises in which wastewater discharged into the town's wastewater system, at reasonable hours of the day and upon reasonable notice” for testing, installations, repairs, and to ensure compliance.

A subsection prohibits anyone from obstructing “any employee of the town or its contractors, servants and agents or workers” with authority over the town’s wastewater system.

Mayor Don Anderberg thanked McRae for raising his concerns.

“We are very jumpy when it comes to what goes into the sewer system because of the issues that have happened in the past,” he said, referring to contaminations at the old sanitation dump near the municipal district office at 1037 Herron Ave.

Laurie Wilgosh, chief administrative officer last July, said the town has an agreement with Triple T that “allows us access (to its sanitation dump) when we suspect contamination.”

Wilgosh and McRae agree that the town asked Triple T to build its sanitation dump because town office felt the MD’s dump wasn’t adequately supervised or sufficiently secure.

Wilgosh said Triple T’s dump had been temporarily shut down as a precaution. The suspected environmental hazards never materialized, but the administration was obligated to notify Alberta Environment immediately after sanitation operators found the sludge.

The town had to bring in a contractor to clean and test the sludge. Lonestar has that capacity, but local contractors don’t, Wilgosh explained.

McRae said Triple T’s agreement with the town doesn’t allow for town employees to enter the work yard without prior consultation. In particular, he said was vexed that town staff had entered the yard without registering at the company office, which he said was a strict occupational health and safety requirement.

Anderberg said council would take McRae’s concerns “to heart,” adding that he “certainly has some valid points.”

Laurie Tritschler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze