Grant deadline doesn’t make sense in Canada, authority boss says
The first phase of the Dundas EcoPark on the Desjardins Canal is underway thanks to the timely availability of 20,000 cubic metres of clean fill at virtually no cost to cap the site’s contaminated soil.
Yet the good news is tempered by the possibility the Hamilton Conservation Authority will lose half of a $502,000 federal cost-sharing grant for the gateway project because of a requirement to spend the money by March 31.
Authority directors last week approved the awarding of a $498,000 contract to prepare the former Veldhuis Greenhouses property for the fill, which is being excavated at nearby McMaster University to make way for a new liberal arts building.
The Community Infrastructure Improvement Fund grant, announced by Conservative MP David Sweet in January, will cover half the cost of the preparation work, which includes perimeter fencing, removal of asphalt slabs and construction of a concrete buffer to secure a remnant chimney that is a nesting spot for endangered chimney swifts.
Tony Horvat, the authority’s director of land management, said he expected work to begin this week to allow the site to start receiving the Mac fill by Sept. 27.
If all goes to plan, the one-metre cap will be graded and ready for seeding with native grasses by mid October – an interim measure until the authority comes up with its share of the money for final grading using topsoil.
The $2.4-million park will eventually feature walking paths, a tented boardwalk and viewing area, floating islands, a restored wetland area and gravel nesting areas for turtles by the canal’s banks.
But Horvat said he doubts the park’s final grading can proceed before next March because the construction season is quickly ending, jeopardizing the balance of the federal grant.
He said although the authority submitted its grant application 15 months ago, it only received Ministry of the Environment approval on July 26 to cap, rather than remove, the Veldhuis property’s soil, which is contaminated with heavy metals.
“These grants don’t make sense to end on March 31st in Canada. If you’re working outside, your season ends November 1st. You just cannot spend the money unless you’re working indoors,” Horvat said.
“It’s another constraint on a job. You’ve got to juggle the timing of the eligibility of these funds. It’s not ideal. Other than the fact that the clean fill is available, I would not be rushing this because it’s so close to the winter period.”
Directors expressed concern only two companies bid on the project, with the $497,900 tender by Hamilton’s G.S. Wark Ltd. nearly $200,000 cheaper than one submitted by Bondfield Construction Co. Ltd. of Concord, Ont.
Bondfield is excavating the McMaster construction site – the former home of the Downstairs John pub, soon to become L.R Wilson Hall – and will truck the fill to the Veldhuis property, grade it and seed it.
Horvat said the authority advertised the contract in the Hamilton Spectator and Daily Commercial News, but only two of nine contractors expressing interest submitted bids, likely because of the tight deadline and a busy construction season.
The contaminated soil will also require health-and-safety measures, he said.
“The workers will have to be protected with dust masks and they’ll have to water the site if it gets dry to keep dust down,” he said. “That scares some guys off because they don’t have the capacity to deal with those issues.”
Horvat said he’s confident the Mac fill will be clean because the excavation site was a farm field before the university built there, but tests will confirm this before it is trucked to the Veldhuis site.
Although a memo of understanding with Bondfield was still being finalized, the contractor has good reason to be interested in helping out the authority because it must remove 40,000 cubic metres of fill from the Mac site, he added.
“It looks like we’re not going to be paying much, if anything, for bringing in the fill and bulldozing it into position,” he said.