New Brunswick

Port Saint John sends AIM $177K bill for fire-related costs at scrapyard

Port Saint John sent American Iron & Metal a bill for more than $177,000 for costs to date related to the fire at the company's harbourside scrapyard last fall.

Fire resulted in 'contamination and environmental impacts,' contrary to terms of AIM's lease, port CEO says

A large cloud of white and grey smoke hangs in the air above a fire at a scrap metal yard, surrounded by homes.
Port Saint John has incurred expenses directly related to the AIM fire, as well as the investigation into the fire and the impact of the fire, said president and CEO Craig Estabrooks. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Port Saint John sent American Iron & Metal a bill for more than $177,000 for costs to date related to the fire at the company's harbourside scrapyard last fall.

The Sept. 14 fire at the west side site "resulted in contamination and environmental impacts, contrary to the terms of the [company's] lease" with the port, president and CEO Craig Estabrooks wrote in a letter to AIM, dated Jan. 22.

The fire burned for two days and prompted a city-wide shelter-in-place order because of hazardous smoke. AIM operations were suspended, and a joint provincial government-port task force was struck to investigate.

Port Saint John has incurred expenses "directly related to the fire, the investigation into the fire and the impacts caused by the fire," Estabrooks wrote.

The invoice to date amounts to $177,465.64, according to the letter, filed with the Court of King's Bench last week as an exhibit in AIM's bid to get the Department of Environment's suspension of its approval to operate lifted.

More invoices anticipated

Dillon Consulting professional service fees represent the largest share of the expenses, with more than $71,000 for the preparation of an environmental report and an additional nearly $13,000 for the preparation of a structural report, the documents show.

Arcon Forensic Engineers charged more than $42,000 to conduct a fire investigation and prepare a report.

Former Saint John fire chief Rob Simonds, who was appointed by the task force to "conduct a comprehensive fire investigation," charged nearly $14,000 to prepare a "community impact report."

Several piles of scrap material sit on an industrial dock with two large cruise ships moored across the harbour.
AIM's recycling plant, pictured here in December, sits idle under an order from the province to stop operations. On the day of the fire, two cruise ships were expected but ended up changing their schedule because of Hurricane Lee. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

There is also nearly $8,000 for spill response by ALERT (Atlantic Environmental Response Team), nearly $5,000 for emergency security coverage by National Port Security Services, and nearly $4,000 for port facilities and port employee overtime.

"We will continue to provide AIM with further invoices for costs recoverable by [Port Saint John] under the lease as they are incurred," Estabrooks wrote.

AIM plans to pay under protest

In an emailed response to the bill from the port, AIM senior vice-president Doug Crawford argued the company is not obligated to pay the "majority" of fees under the terms of its lease.

"While the lease does provide for recovery of certain environmental remediation costs by the [Saint John Port Authority], this only relates to costs incurred where AIM has not responded to regulatory requirements during the term of the lease or, at the end of the lease, where an exit report reveals non-historical contamination in excess of standards required by the environmental laws," he wrote on Feb. 9.

The more than $84,000 for the port's hiring of Dillon Consulting, therefore, is not recoverable, Crawford said.

In addition, several of the invoiced items were incurred by the port on behalf of the joint task force on the fire, according to Crawford.

"As the attorney general noted in releasing the task force report, the task force had no regulatory authority over AIM and its operations at the site," he wrote. "The items related to investigations and reports for the task force are therefore not recoverable from AIM."

But since the port "clearly takes a different view," AIM plans to pay under protest, and reserves the right to set-off the amount against future rent, including interest at a rate of 1.5 per cent per month, Crawford wrote.

"It is our hope that discussions between the parties shall resolve this difference shortly."

It's unclear whether AIM has since paid the bill, or if any additional costs have been incurred.

"Port Saint John has no comment on these questions as they relate to the judicial review involving AIM and the Province of New Brunswick that is before the courts," spokesperson Patrick Beamish said in an email to CBC News on Tuesday.

City sent AIM bill for $219K

In December, the City of Saint John sent AIM a bill for $219,000 for the costs of fighting the fire — a cost it didn't think its citizens should bear.

Saint John Coun. David Hickey, who is chair of the public safety committee, said at the time there was no question the city would get the money. 

"We will collect it. It's a bill that AIM owes us."

The only question, he said, was whether the bill should have been higher. While it included the total cost of fire services, it did not reflect the cost to local businesses that had to shut down for two days, or on individuals who were ordered to shelter in place, or on unforeseen long-term health-related costs of exposure to toxins in the air, soil or water.  

"So I would suggest, in that case, they probably got off lucky," Hickey said.