Brownfields and such….

Town considers tax breaks on contaminated properties

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

If you stick around long enough at a council meeting, you may learn something new. In this case it was the term ‘brownfield,’ which is apparently the accepted term in the world of municipal governance for contaminated lots that sit around undeveloped (and maybe undevelopable) for years. Most often, they formerly housed fuel stations or salt sheds and the remediation costs render them unattractive to developers or purchasers.

The report before council at its Nov. 6 meeting had to do with recent changes to the Municipal Government Act, giving municipalities the option to “cancel, defer or reduce,” taxes on such properties.

“That’s interesting,” said mayor Tyler Warman. “Usually we’re not allowed to do that.” (Give breaks on property taxes.)

The idea behind the change, council heard, is to ‘incentivize’ the owners of the properties to clean them up.

There are several such sites known in Slave Lake. Others likely exist but aren’t known, but they may come to light in the course of development. For example, evidence of a former fuel storage site was turned up when 2nd Ave. NE was dug up a few years ago. The planning and development director told council the department would like to develop an inventory of such sites, and would need help from long-time residents in identifying them. Others, such as the former Shell bulk station on Caribou Trail and the former highways maintenance yard on 6th Ave SW are more obvious.

Councillor Darin Busk wondered if all such sites are being treated in the same way. He gave as an example what the town has had to do to remediate salt contamination in its yard and wondered if other owners are getting away with not doing that.

Typically, remediation is triggered when a property is purchased. As noted, though, many sit idle for decades because nobody wants to purchase them, knowing the expense involved.

Council was not being asked to make any decision at this point. Any change to how brownfield properties are taxed would have to come in the form of a tax bylaw, which would require a public hearing.

Council accepted the report as information.

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